The atomist philosopher Lucretius wrote some prescient verse describing a universe filled with particles in his book: The Nature of Things.
“All things keep on, in everlasting motion
Out of the infinite come the particles
Speeding above, below, in endless dance.”
-Lucretius, De Rerum Natura, c. 70 BCE
1. Cosmic Cruise (1:55)
About 14 billion years ago, the universe began in a Big Bang. In one single instant, all matter and energy were created. Rapid expansion caused the matter to cool and change into atoms and also the mysterious dark matter. At first, the dark matter was spread out evenly but faint echoes of the seething quantum foam that existed at the instant of creation remained like random ripples on the surface of a frozen pond. Gravity took hold of these noisy echoes and caused them to collapse into halos of dark matter that became the seeds of the galaxies.
In this animation, we fly straight through a 130 million particle simulation of dark matter travelling hundreds of millions light years over 14 billion years. We illuminate the dark matter particles so that we can watch the formation of the cosmic web – the foundation of all structure in the prevailing model of cosmology. At the start, the regular grid of particles reflects the featureless nature of the universe at the beginning. As the flight continues, we witness the formation of the first structures through the collapse of density fluctuations. These merge with other structures and grow into the dark halos of sizes varying from galaxies to galaxy clusters.