With all the crazy ideas that get thrown around in this forum, I thought it would be good to step back and review the mainstream view on cosmology in 2005. The field is advancing very rapidly, so it's possible that even the most reliable websites will be woefully out of date, both in terms of results and the evidence for them. Let's review, starting from the most secure and ending with the most puzzling/dubious aspects of the standard theories. I'll do this over the course of multiple posts, and feel free to interject and discuss at any point. Note that we are discussing mainstream cosmology, so this is not the place to present your favorite non-standard model for the universe. However, please do feel free to discuss observational evidence (or the lack thereof) for the standard theories. 1) Expansion The universe is, without a doubt, expanding. The most striking evidence for this is the fact that nearly every object in the sky exhibits a redshift in the spectrum of light that is emitted from it. Furthermore, more distant objects are observed to have larger redshifts, exactly what you would expect for expansion. Alternative theories (such as Zwicky's "tired light hypothesis") were put forth and seriously considered in the first half of the 20th century, but have produced no correct predictions, nor are they consistent with any known physics. They have not been seriously considered by the mainstream for quite some time. It should be noted that redshift is not the only reason we think the universe is expanding, but it was certainly the first evidence. Since the discovery of Hubble's Law in 1929, many more things have been deduced under the assumption of expansion (most notably, the Big Bang Theory) that also produce testable predictions. The success of these theories can be viewed retroactively as evidence for the expanding universe. 2) The Big Bang Theory There is a lot of confusion amongst the general public about what the Big Bang Theory is really saying and which aspects of it are taken as gospel truth by the scientific community. In its simplest form, you can think of the argument as follows: "If space is expanding and the universe has a finite size, then it must have been much smaller in the past". How much smaller? Well, the standard assumption is that the universe had a creation event and expanded from a singularity to its present size. Such a distant extrapolation can't possibly be verified by the current observations, but we can safely say that the universe expanded from a much smaller size than its current one. There is good observational evidence for an epoch of nucleosynthesis approximately one minute after the creation event (z ~ 108). Physical models of the conditions in this early phase of the universe were able to predict the relative abundances of the light isotopes (including hydrogen, helium, and deuterium) to very high accuracy. There is even stronger evidence for recombination, an event that occurred when the scales in the universe were a 1000 times smaller than today (~400,000 years after the big bang). Recombination is what gives rise to the cosmic microwave background (CMB) radiation, a nearly blackbody spectrum that can also be modelled very accurately. The models are so accurate, in fact, that they have also allowed us to precisely measure some of the parameters of our universe. More on this later. In addition, there is increasing evidence for an epoch of inflation, thought to occur 10-35 seconds after the creation event, during which the universe may have expanded by as much as a factor of 1050! If we could observationally confirm such a hypothesis, it would be an overwhelming success for both the Big Bang Theory and the scientific method itself. I'll also discuss the evidence for this in more detail later. There are a lot of nice websites on the Big Bang Theory (see here, for example), so web surf if you want to know more.