(IGP) GS Paper 1 – General Science – “Universe”

Integrated Guidance Programme of General Studies for IAS
(Pre) – 2013

Subject – General Science
Chapter :Universe


The universe is a huge wide-open space that holds everything from the
smallest particle to the biggest galaxy.

Scientists believe that about 13.7 billion years ago, a
powerful explosion called the Big Bang happened. This powerful explosion set the
universe into motion and this motion continues today. Scientists are not yet
sure if the motion will stop, change direction, or keep going forever.

Evolution of Universe:

The three main theories put forward to explain the origin and evolution of
the universe are:

  1. The Big Bang Theory
  2. The Steady State Theory
  3. The Pulsating Theory
  • (i) The Big Bang Theory: Le Maitre and Gammow
    proposed this theory. According to this theory, at the beginning of the
    universe, the whole matter of the universe was once concentrated in an
    extremely dense and hot (~10 12K) fireball. Then about 20 billion years ago
    a vast explosion (big bang) occurred. The matter was broken into pieces,
    which were thrown out with high speed in all directions forming stars and
    galaxies; which are still moving way from one another. According to Hubble’s
    law, the velocity of recession of a galaxy becomes equal to the velocity of
    light at a distance equal of 20 billing light years. It means, the light
    rays from stars and galaxies, which are situated at a distance of 20 billion
    light years or more, can never reach us. Thus this distance becomes the
    boundary of observable universe. On account of continuous recession, more
    and more galaxies will go beyond this boundary and they will be lost. As a
    result of this, the number of galaxies per unit volume will go on decreasing
    and ultimately a time may come when we may have empty universe.

  • (ii) Steady State Theory: Bondi, Gold and Fred
    Hoyle developed this theory. According to this theory, the number of
    galaxies in the observable universe is constant and new galaxies are
    continuously being created out of empty space, which fill up the gaps caused
    by those galaxies, which have crossed the boundary of the observable
    universe. As a result of it, the overall size of mass of the observable
    universe remains constant. Thus a steady state of the universe is not
    disturbed at all.

  • (iii) Pulsating Theory: According to this theory,
    the universe is supposed to be expanding and contracting alternately i.e.
    pulsating. At present, the universe is expanding. According to pulsating
    theory, it is possible that at a certain time, the expansion of the universe
    may be stopped by the gravitational pull and they may contract again. After
    it has been contracted to a certain size, explosion again occurs and the
    universe will start expanding. The alternate expansion and contraction of
    the universe give rise to pulsating universe.

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A galaxy contains stars, gas, and dust which are held together as a group by
gravity. There may be millions, or even billions, of stars in one galaxy. There
are billions of galaxies in the universe. Galaxies are labeled according to
their shape. Some galaxies are called “spiral”, because they look like giant
pinwheels in the sky. The galaxy we live in, the Milky Way, is a spiral galaxy.
Some galaxies are called “elliptical”, because they look like flat balls. A
galaxy may be called “irregular” if it doesn’t really have a shape. A new type
of galaxy was discovered recently, called a “starburst” galaxy. In this type of
galaxy, new stars just seem to ‘burst out’ very quickly.

(i) The Milky Way

  • The Milky Way is over 100,000 light-years wide. It is
    called a spiral galaxy because it has long arms which spin around like a
    giant pinwheel. Our Sun is a star in one of the arms. When you look up at
    the night sky, most of the stars you see are in one of the Milky Way arms.

  • A light-year is the distance light travels in one year. It is 9.5
    trillion (9,500,000,000,000) kilometers. The size of a galaxy may be as
    little as a thousand light-years across or as much as a million light-years

(ii) Quasars

  • Quasars are farther away from Earth than any other known
    object in the universe. Because they are so far away from us, it takes
    billions of years for the light they give off to reach Earth. The light
    stays the same, it just has to travel a long time to get to us. When we look
    at a quasar, it is like we are looking back in time. The light we see today
    is what the quasar looked like billions of years ago. Some scientists think
    that when they study quasars they are studying the beginning of the

  • Quasars give off huge amounts of energy. They can be a
    trillion times brighter than the Sun! Astronomers think that quasars are
    located in galaxies which have black holes at their centers. The black holes
    may provide quasars with their energy. Quasars are so bright that they drown
    out the light from all other stars in the same galaxy. The word quasar is
    short for quasi-stellar radio source. Quasars give off radio waves, X-rays,
    gamma-rays, ultraviolet rays, and visible light. Most of them are larger
    than our solar system.

(iii) Dark Matter

  • Matter is anything that takes up space and has mass. We
    are used to matter which we will call visible matter. Visible matter can be
    seen because it gives off light or reflects light given off by another
    object. Dark matter cannot be seen. It does not give off light or reflect

  • Scientists believe that over ninety-percent of the matter
    in the universe is dark matter. They also believe that by studying dark
    matter they will gain new information about the universe. Some of the
    information they hope to discover is the size, shape and future of the
    universe. Scientists also hope to learn about how galaxies formed by
    studying dark matter.

  • Dark matter was once called “missing matter”. It was called this because
    scientists looking at the sky could not find it.


  • A star is a huge, shining ball in space that produces a
    tremendous amount of light and other forms of energy. The sun is a star, and
    it supplies Earth with light and heat energy. The stars look like twinkling
    points of light — except for the sun. The sun looks like a ball because it
    is much closer to Earth than any other stars. Stars are formed initially
    from gas and dust. They are composed mainly of the hydrogen gas. Gas are
    very hot and give off huge amounts of energy in the form of heat and light.
    Our Sun is a medium sized star.

  • Stars have a life-span of about 10 billion years, after which they will
    cease to exist.
  • Stars are very far away from Earth. The closest Star is about 23.5
    trillion miles away.

What Is The Closest Star?

  • The closest star to us is the sun! Other than that, the closest star is
    Proxima Centauri, aka Alpha Centauri C (the dimmest star in the Alpha
    Centauri system). Proxima Centauri is 4.3 light-years from the Sun.

Why Do Stars Twinkle

  • The scientific name for the twinkling of stars is stellar
    scintillation (or astronomical scintillation). Stars twinkle when we see
    them from the Earth’s surface because we are viewing them through thick
    layers of turbulent (moving) air in the Earth’s atmosphere.

The Solar System

  • The word “solar” refers to the sun; the sun is one of the
    150 billion stars of the Milky Way. It moves through space taking with it a
    larger family of objects. The whole group is called the solar system. Our
    solar system is elliptical in shape. The sun is the center of the solar
    system. Solar system is always in motion. Its largest and most important
    members are the nine known planets and their moons, along with smaller
    objects called comets, asteroids, and meteoroids that orbit the sun. The sun
    is the biggest object in our solar system. It contains 99.8% of the solar
    system’s mass. Many scientists believe that our Solar System is over 4.6
    billion years old.

  • The planets Mercury, Venus, Earth, and Mars, evolved as
    globes of rock that are present near the Sun. They were too small and their
    gravitational fields too weak to capture. However, far from the sun, the
    massive planets Jupiter and Saturn, with powerful gravitational fields, did
    attract and hold thick gaseous atmospheres of Hydrogen and Helium.

  • The Sun is our closest star. It is a member of the Milky
    Way galaxy. The diameter of the Sun is 1,392,000 kilometers. It is believed
    to be over 4 billion years old. The Sun is a medium sized star known as a
    yellow dwarf. The Sun spins slowly on its axis as it revolves around the
    galaxy. The Sun is a large ball of gas consisting mostly of hydrogen and
    helium. The Sun is about 109 times larger than Earth.

Other Objects in the Solar System

  • Asteroids: Asteroids are rocky and metallic
    objects that orbit the Sun but are too small to be considered as planets.
    They are known as minor planets. Most of the asteroids in our solar system
    can be found orbiting the Sun between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter. This
    area is sometimes called the “asteroid belt”. A few asteroids approach the
    Sun more closely.

  • Asteroid belt: The asteroid belt is a doughnut
    shaped concentration of asteroids orbiting the Sun between the orbits of
    Mars and Jupiter, closer to the orbit of Mars.

  • Comets: A comet is made of dirty ice, dust, and
    gas. Scientists believe that comets are made up of material left over when
    the Sun and the planets were formed. When a comet gets close to the Sun,
    part of the ice starts to melt. Scientists think- about 100,000 million
    comets orbit the Sun. There are some comets orbiting the Sun like planets.
    Their orbits take them very close to and very far away from the Sun. Comet
    can be seen only when it comes close to the Sun. The Sun’s heat melts the
    comet’s ice to form glowing gases. The gases stream out into a long tail
    that can extend to millions of kilometers.

  • Meteorites: Besides asteroids some smaller pieces
    of rocks and dust also orbit the Sun. These pieces of rock or dust enter the
    Earth’s atmosphere. As they pass they encounter great friction, which causes
    them to heat up and burn out. These burning pieces of rock or dust are
    called as meteors. Although they are not stars, people call them as shooting
    stars, because they flash light across the sky. Most of the meteors burn up
    before they reach the Earth. Some are so large that a part of it reaches the
    ground as a meteorite. Any leftover part that does strike the Earth is
    called a meteorite. A meteorite can make a hole or crater in the ground when
    it hits it. The larger the meteorite, the bigger the hole.


  • By the current count of astronomers, our solar system
    includes 8 planets and 5 dwarf planets. The planets were formed during the
    process of solar system formation, when clumps began to form in the disk of
    gas and dusk rotating about our young Sun. Eventually, only the planets and
    other small bodies in the solar system remained. The four rocky planets at
    the center of the solar system Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, are known as the
    inner planets. Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune are all composed
    primarily of gas and are known as the outer planets.


  • The Earth is the third planet from the Sun in our Solar
    System. It is the planet, we evolved on and the only planet in our Solar
    System that is known to support life. It is 149.6 million kilometers away
    from the Sun. It has one moon. The Earth is the fifth-largest planet in our
    Solar System (after Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune).

  • Each day on the Earth takes 23.93 hours (that is, it takes the Earth
    23.93 hours to rotate around its axis once .). Each year on the Earth takes
    365.26 Earth days (that is, it takes the Earth 365.26 days to orbit the Sun

The Moon:

  • The moon is a satellite that revolves around the Earth in
    an oval shaped orbit. Earth’s moon is smaller than the Earth. It is smaller
    than the sun. It looks bigger because it is much closer to the Earth. It is
    240,000 miles (384,000 kilometers) away. Moon appears in the nighttime. The
    Moon turns so slowly that a moon’s day is two Earth-weeks long. Then it is
    night for the next two weeks. The moon is very hot during daytime and gets
    very cold at night. It appears hotter than boiling water because there is no
    air to protect the moon from the hot sunlight. It gets very, very cold
    during night because there is no air to hold heat on the moon. The moon has
    no atmosphere, air or water, to support life. Moon can be seen clearly with
    your eyes, binoculars, or a telescope.

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Analysis and More MCQs of the Chapter Buy this Study Notes:

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