Albert Einstein once proposed an alternative to the Big Bang theory, arguing that rather than a single explosive event, the universe expanded steadily and eternally. A manuscript in which he set out the proposition sat unnoticed for decades at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem’s Albert Einstein Archives, and was only recently discovered.

The Big Bang theory emerged in the 1920s, but Einstein initially opposed it. His writings on an alternative approach, entitled “About the Cosmological Problem,” were penned in or around 1931, apparently during a visit to California (since he used American notepaper). Describing his theory for the formation of the universe, he wrote: “For the density to remain constant new particles of matter must be continually formed.”

But he quickly abandoned his idea, according to Cormac O’Raifeartaigh, a physicist at the Waterford Institute of Technology in Ireland who realized what the manuscript dealt with. Einstein recognized that he had made a mistake in his calculations, according to O’Raifeartaigh, corrected them — crossing out a number in different colored ink — and is not known to have ever returned to the subject.

Einstein's corrected calculation (photo credit: Albert Einstein Archives, Hebrew University of Jerusalem)

Einstein’s corrected calculation (photo credit: Albert Einstein Archives, Hebrew University of Jerusalem)

The Einstein manuscript has long been available online at the Albert Einstein Archives, but had been erroneously identified as the first draft of a different Einstein paper. After O’Raifeartaigh came across it and researched it, he and a team of colleagues posted their findings, which were then reported in recent days by the magazine Nature.

Nature quotes cosmologist James Peebles of Princeton University describing the manuscript as probably “a rough draft commenced with excitement over a neat idea and soon abandoned as the author realized he was fooling himself.”