I was fascinated by yesterdays announcement that "old light" revealed trace evidence in the background radiation of the earliest trillionth of a trillionth (and then some) of a second of the "big bang". What I don't grasp is the measurement of the timescale, if we are talking about the creation of the most elemental forces, aren't we talking about the creation of time itself too? If so how do we establish a time-scale to measure what involves-among other things- the creation of the time that we are measuring by? A big bang of thanks to who-ever can answer in layman's terms!
All we can really say is that if you run the clock backwards, this event would have happened 10^(-34) or so seconds before all our equations blow up (going backwards from today). This is a short time, granted, but the equations are still valid for another factor of a billion or so smaller intervals, so this doesn't cause any existential crises for space and time.
With no relevant data probing earlier times, though, all sorts of things could have happened in those earlier times: the universe could have quite comfortably been going on forever before this event, then suddenly entered this new phase. Or, space and time somehow popped into existence and triggered this evolving universe, but the physics that we have carefully built up over the centuries doesn't give a lot of guidance for how this would happen or what it would mean. It is possible that there is information from this earlier time encoded in our universe, but that is a pretty fuzzy frontier of current research.