Lambda-CDM, accelerated expansion of the universe. The time-line in this schematic diagram extends from the Big Bang/inflation era 13.7 Byr ago to the present cosmological time.
Most modern cosmological models are based on the cosmological principle, which states that our observational location in the universe is not unusual or special; on a large-enough scale, the universe looks the same in all directions (isotropy) and from every location (homogeneity).
The model includes an expansion of metric space that is well documented both as the red shift of prominent spectral absorption or emission lines in the light from distant galaxies and as the time dilation in the light decay of supernova luminosity curves. Both effects are attributed to a Doppler shift in electromagnetic radiation as it travels across expanding space. Although this expansion increases the distance between objects that are not under shared gravitational influence, it does not increase the size of the objects (e.g. galaxies) in space. It also allows for distant galaxies to recede from each other at speeds greater than the speed of light; local expansion is less than the speed of light, but expansion summed across great distances can collectively exceed the speed of light.
The letter (lambda) represents the cosmological constant, which is currently associated with a vacuum energy or dark energy in empty space that is used to explain the contemporary accelerating expansion of space against the attractive effects of gravity. A cosmological constant has negative pressure, , which contributes to the stress-energy tensor that, according to the general theory of relativity, causes accelerating expansion. The fraction of the total energy density of our (flat or almost flat) universe that is dark energy, , is currently (2015) estimated to be 0.692 ± 0.012, or even 0.6911 ± 0.0062 based on Planck satellite data.
Dark matter is postulated in order to account for gravitational effects observed in very large-scale structures (the "flat" rotation curves of galaxies; the gravitational lensing of light by galaxy clusters; and enhanced clustering of galaxies) that cannot be accounted for by the quantity of observed matter. Cold dark matter is non-baryonic, i.e. it consists of matter other than protons and neutrons (and electrons, by convention, although electrons are not baryons); cold, i.e. its velocity is far less than the speed of light at the epoch of radiation-matter equality (thus neutrinos are excluded, being non-baryonic but not cold); dissipationless, i.e. it cannot cool by radiating photons; and collisionless, i.e. the dark matter particles interact with each other and other particles only through gravity and possibly the weak force. The dark matter component is currently (2013) estimated to constitute about 26.8% of the mass-energy density of the universe.
The remaining 4.9% (2013) comprises all ordinary matter observed as atoms, chemical elements, gas and plasma, the stuff of which visible planets, stars and galaxies are made. The great majority of ordinary matter in the universe is unseen, since visible stars and gas inside galaxies and clusters account for less than 10% of the ordinary matter contribution to the mass-energy density of the universe.
Also, the energy density includes a very small fraction (~ 0.01%) in cosmic microwave background radiation, and not more than 0.5% in relic neutrinos. Although very small today, these were much more important in the distant past, dominating the matter at redshift > 3200.
The model includes a single originating event, the "Big Bang", which was not an explosion but the abrupt appearance of expanding space-time containing radiation at temperatures of around 1015 K. This was immediately (within 10−29 seconds) followed by an exponential expansion of space by a scale multiplier of 1027 or more, known as cosmic inflation. The early universe remained hot (above 10,000 K) for several hundred thousand years, a state that is detectable as a residual cosmic microwave background, or CMB, a very low energy radiation emanating from all parts of the sky. The "Big Bang" scenario, with cosmic inflation and standard particle physics, is the only current cosmological model consistent with the observed continuing expansion of space, the observed distribution of lighter elements in the universe (hydrogen, helium, and lithium), and the spatial texture of minute irregularities (anisotropies) in the CMB radiation. Cosmic inflation also addresses the "horizon problem" in the CMB; indeed, it seems likely that the universe is larger than the observable particle horizon.
The model uses the Friedmann–Lemaître–Robertson–Walker metric, the Friedmann equations and the cosmological equations of state to describe the observable universe from right after the inflationary epoch to present and future.