Of the four fundamental interactions, gravitation is the dominant at astronomical length scales. Gravity effects are cumulative; by contrast, the effects of positive and negative charges tend to cancel one another, making electromagnetism relatively insignificant on astronomical length scales. The remaining two interactions, the weak and strong nuclear forces, decline very rapidly with distance; their effects are confined mainly to sub-atomic length scales.
This diagram shows Earth location in the universe on increasingly larger scales. The images, labeled along their left edge, increase in size from left to right, then from top to bottom.
The size of the universe is somewhat difficult to define. According to the general theory of relativity, far regions of space may never interact with ours even in the lifetime of the universe due to the finite speed of light and the ongoing expansion of space. For example, radio messages sent from Earth may never reach some regions of space, even if the universe were to exist forever: space may expand faster than light can traverse it.
Because we cannot observe space beyond the edge of the observable universe, it is unknown whether the size of the universe in its totality is finite or infinite.
Spacetimes are the arenas in which all physical events take place. The basic elements of spacetimes are events. In any given spacetime, an event is defined as a unique position at a unique time. A spacetime is the union of all events in the same way that a line is the union of all of its points, formally organized into a manifold.
Spacetime events are not absolutely defined spatially and temporally but rather are known to be relative to the motion of an observer. Minkowski space approximates the universe without gravity; the pseudo-Riemannian manifolds of general relativity describe spacetime with matter and gravity.
An important parameter determining the future evolution of the universe theory is the density parameter, Omega, defined as the average matter density of the universe divided by a critical value of that density. This selects one of three possible geometries depending on whether is equal to, less than, or greater than 1. These are called, respectively, the flat, open and closed universes.
Observations, including the Cosmic Background Explorer, Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe, and Planck maps of the CMB, suggest that the universe is infinite in extent with a finite age, as described by the Friedmann–Lemaître–Robertson–Walker (FLRW) models.
The universe is composed almost completely of dark energy, dark matter, and ordinary matter. Other contents are electromagnetic radiation (estimated to constitute from 0.005% to close to 0.01% of the total mass-energy of the universe) and antimatter.
The observable universe is isotropic on scales significantly larger than superclusters, meaning that the statistical properties of the universe are the same in all directions as observed from Earth. The universe is bathed in highly isotropic microwave radiation that corresponds to a thermal equilibrium blackbody spectrum of roughly 2.72548 kelvins.
Two proposed forms for dark energy are the cosmological constant, a constant energy density filling space homogeneously, and scalar fields such as quintessence or moduli, dynamic quantities whose energy density can vary in time and space. Contributions from scalar fields that are constant in space are usually also included in the cosmological constant. The cosmological constant can be formulated to be equivalent to vacuum energy. Scalar fields having only a slight amount of spatial inhomogeneity would be difficult to distinguish from a cosmological constant.
Ordinary matter commonly exists in four states: solid, liquid, gas, and plasma. However, advances in experimental techniques have revealed other previously theoretical phases, such as Bose–Einstein condensates and fermionic condensates.
A photon is the quantum of light and all other forms of electromagnetic radiation. It is the force carrier for the electromagnetic force, even when static via virtual photons. The effects of this force are easily observable at the microscopic and at the macroscopic level because the photon has zero rest mass; this allows long distance interactions. Like all elementary particles, photons are currently best explained by quantum mechanics and exhibit wave–particle duality, exhibiting properties of waves and of particles.
With the assumption of the cosmological principle that the universe is homogeneous and isotropic everywhere, a specific solution of the field equations that describes the universe is the metric tensor called the metric,
Some speculative theories have proposed that our universe is but one of a set of disconnected universes, collectively denoted as the multiverse, challenging or enhancing more limited definitions of the universe. Scientific multiverse models are distinct from concepts such as alternate planes of consciousness and simulated reality.
The Indian philosopher Kanada, founder of the Vaisheshika school, developed a notion of atomism and proposed that light and heat were varieties of the same substance.