Andrei Linde, one of the world's leading cosmologists, said his latest ideas of how the universe began about 15 billion years ago do not envisage a great ball of fire but many inflating bubbles of space-time generating an infinite number of fresh bubbles, which expanded rapidly like the fizz in a drink.
"The theory is very simple, but we have had a lot of psychological barriers to overcome," Dr Linde, a physics professor at Stanford University in California, told the meeting.
The Big Bang fireball explains several observations in astronomy, such as why the universe is expanding and why there is a faint trace of radiation in every corner of the sky, but it is wrong, Dr Linde said. His model relies on cosmological inflation, which suggests the universe is like a giant expanding balloon whose surface becomes less curved and flatter. The concept is better at explaining other astronomical observations, he said.
"It seems that inflation is doing very well, so far. In the last 20 years no other theory has been proposed that can explain the present state of the universe as well," he said. "What evidence is there that the universe was originally hot? None at all."
Dr Linde's idea will have to contend with the recent discovery that not only is the universe expanding, but that the expansion is accelerating - a fact implied by Einstein's theory of relativity. Equally, physicists and astronomers are wedded to the idea of the Big Bang, which in the Sixties replaced the "Steady State" theory, a suggestion that the universe was essentially eternal.
The Big Bang revolution followed the discovery by scientists testing new microwave listening devices of heat residue.