Unboxing the Universe

  • By Greg Kestin
  • Posted 08.02.17
  • NOVA

What if everything in the universe came to your doorstep...in a box?! What would be inside? Find out in this episode of What the Physics?!

Running Time: 4:20


Unboxing the Universe

Aug. 2, 2017

Greg Kestin: So, it just came in the mail. The Universe. You really seemed to like my other unboxing videos. So, I figured, why don’t we unbox the universe. In this first video what I’ll do is I’ll take literally everything out of the box, and then in the next video I’ll show you how to put it together, and I’ll tell you what I think.

So, there are a couple of warnings. First, if you just got standard shipping, I’d watch out. Because if you have stars sitting around for over a few million years, then some of them are in danger of exploding, and if they explode they can turn into black holes and suck up and rip apart other stars. So, if you’re worried about your stars getting ripped up, I would recommend getting the Suck-It-Up Insurance. 

The second warning is if you’re going to put this thing together, you’re going to need infinite space. So, we’re going to need to make some room. 

You’re going to want to get the most highly tested and reliable model. That’s the standard cosmological model, or model number Lambda-CDM. That is, it expands and has cold dark matter.

You’ll want to stay away from another model of the universe called the False Vacuum Model. That’s actually been recalled for its tendency to spark ever-expanding bubbles that destroy everything we know and love.

Let’s open this thing up. Oh my goodness. The most exciting thing in the universe. These can also explode. Bubble wrap! 

All right. Let’s take out the power sources. First we have some red stars. There are some big red stars and then there are some red dwarfs in there as well. We’ve got some yellow stars. Got some blue stars. Again there are some blue supergiants in there and actually there are some little tiny white dwarfs in there too. These stars are not rechargeable, so please, do your duty and recycle the remnants of especially the ones that explode because they’re made into things like human beings. That’s right, you’re made of recycled material, much like the flip-flops I’m wearing. 

Next we have some black holes. There are some supermassive ones and some solar-mass ones in there too. And then we have our dark energy and we have some dark matter. So these two are actually proprietary; they’re trade secrets of the manufacturer Big Bang, but don’t worry, we’re working on the recipe. 

What else do we have? Looks like there’s a bunch of hydrogen, helium, and light that’s left over from the manufacturing process, so I’m just going to pour that out onto the stars and black holes. There we go. Oh—whoa—keep these away from each other. So, we have two black holes here and if you let them get too close to each other, this’ll happen. That was gravitational waves bending space and time and it feels super weird going through your body. 

So, I got my universe second-hand and, just from looking at what’s here, it looks like it’s about 13.8 billion years old. You can also tell it’s old because there’s a bunch of dust floating around in it and that’s a solemn reminder of stars from the past that have been cremated in supernovae. 

Seriously, there’s a lot of dust in the universe and people spend years studying it, because behind it they can find amazing cosmic secrets like the Milky Way’s Fermi bubbles. 

All right, let’s see what’s left in here. Okay, I can’t reach it, but it looks like about more of the same. This’ll be plenty for  next time, when we build a galaxy and the entire observable universe. Also, we'll put in the dark energy and the dark matter, we’ll see what those do, I’ll also tell you the pros and cons, and I'll tell you how many stars I give the universe.  If you liked the video, click subscribe, like, hit that little bell button to get notifications for new videos, and check out our other videos, they’ll be poppin’. No? No. Let’s not use that.



Host, Writer, Producer
Greg Kestin
Animation & Compositing
Danielle Gustitus
Scientific Consultant
Jakub Scholtz
Contributing Writers
Lissy Herman
Harvard College Stand-Up Comic Society
Filming, Writing, & Editing Contributions from
Samia Bouzid
David Goodliffe
Special thanks
Julia Cort
Lauren Aguirre
Anna Rotschild
Ari Daniel
Drew Ganon
Allison Eck
Fernando Becerra
Kristine Allington
Funding provided by
Foundational Questions Institute


provided by APM



Sound Effects


Additional Animations

Cygnus X-1


Courtesy of Nasa
Big Bang

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