“Let There Be Light”
Photon Epoch (or Radiation Domination), from 3 minutes to 240,000 years:
During this long period of gradual cooling, the universe is filled with plasma, a hot, opaque soup of atomic nuclei and electrons. After most of the leptons and antileptons had annihilated each other at the end of the Lepton Epoch, the energy of the universe is dominated by photons, which continue to interact frequently with the charged protons, electrons andnuclei.
Recombination/Decoupling, from 240,000 to 300,000 years:
As the temperature of the universe falls to around 3,000 degrees (about the same heat as the surface of the Sun) and its density also continues to fall, ionized hydrogen and helium atoms capture electrons (known as “recombination”), thus neutralizing their electric charge. With the electrons now bound to atoms, the universe finally becomes transparent to light, making this the earliest epoch observable today. It also releases the photons in the universe which have up till this time been interacting with electrons and protonsin an opaque photon-baryon fluid (known as “decoupling”), and these photons (the same ones we see in today’s cosmic background radiation) can now travel freely. By the end of this period, the universe consists of a fog of about 75% hydrogen and 25% helium, with just traces of lithium.