A Rip, a Crunch, a Slurp, a Sad Whimper? How will the Universe End…Maybe?

2015-07-18

“The story so far:
In the beginning, the Universe was created.
This has made a lot of people very angry and been widely regarded as a bad move.”
― Douglas Adams, The Restaurant at the End of the Universe

It has been said that the first three minutes of life are very hazardous. I would add that the last three minutes are pretty dicey as well. As far as life on Earth is concerned, there are a myriad things that could wipe us out, from giant impacts, to gamma ray bursts, aliens, and even ourselves. The death of the Universe itself has long been a topic of conjecture not just among scientists, but anyone with an enquiring mind at 3 am, usually accompanied by intoxicating substances. There have been many theories kicking around for years, if not decades concerning our Universe’s eventual demise, if indeed it in fact does meet its maker at all. It is a very speculative question, but there are several contenders for what could actually occur.

Cosmologists need further advances in fundamental physics before it will be possible to know the ultimate fate of the Universe with any level of certainty. However, scientists generally agree that this fate will depend on three things: the Universe’s overall shape or geometry(either flat, closed or saddle shaped/open)on how much dark energy it contains, and on the so-called “equation of state” (which essentially determines how the density of the dark energy responds to the expansion of the universe).

Will there be a ‘Big Crunch‘? You can think of this as ‘cosmic recycling’, it may even have happened before. The Universe expanding, then contracting, collapsing in on itself and forming a huge singularity which then produces a new Big Bang. This model relies on the geometry of the universe being “closed” (like the surface of a sphere). Truly, an event like this would be like a single breath. The universe would ‘breathe out’ the Big Bang, and ‘breathe in’ the Big Crunch.

Image credit:howstuffworks

The Big Freeze which is also known as ‘heat death’, or as I like to call it, ‘going out with a pathetic whimper.’ Not my favourite scenario, I think you can tell! This is what happens when the universe runs out of energy. The entropy of the universe continuously increases until it reaches a maximum value. It continues to endlessly expand until it is flat. The moment that happens, heat in the system will be evenly distributed, allowing no room for usable energy (or heat) to exist. Basically, every star runs out of fuel and even black holes eventually evaporate away. Frankly it sounds damn gloomy! Thankfully, if that is what happens, it’s a very long wait until that point.

The Big Slurp concerns that pesky Higgs Boson that has been eluding us for years. The boson helps explain the existence of mass in the cosmos. In other words, it underpins the workings of all the matter we see around us.

“It turns out there’s a calculation you can do in our Standard Model of particle physics, once you know the mass of the Higgs boson,” explained Dr Joseph Lykken. “If you use all the physics we know now, and you do this straightforward calculation – it’s bad news. What happens is you get just a quantum fluctuation that makes a tiny bubble of the vacuum the Universe really wants to be in. And because it’s a lower-energy state, this bubble will then expand, basically at the speed of light, and sweep everything before it,” the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory theoretician said. “The universe wants to be in a different state, so eventually to realize that, a little bubble of what you might think of as an alternate universe will appear somewhere, and it will spread out and destroy us.” Scary stuff. However, we need not panic for billions of years.

The Big Rip is not actually a new theory, having first been mooted back in 2003, but has been gaining momentum recently in a new paper by Assistant Professor of Mathematics Marcelo Disconzi in collaboration with physics professors Thomas Kephart and Robert Scherrer from Vanderbilt University. His new model tends to support the alarming prospect of dark energy becoming stronger over time, with the result that due to accelerated expansion the entire fabric of space will be torn to shreds in an epically flamboyant fashion.

Image credit:Vanderbilt.edu

Dr Marcelo Disconzi, the mathematician who led the work at Vanderbilt University in Tennessee, said: “The idea of the Big Rip is that eventually even the constituents of matter would start separating from each other. You’d be seeing all the atoms being ripped apart … it’s fair to say that it’s a dramatic scenario.”

“The only thing we definitely know is that the universe is expanding and that the rate is accelerating,” said Disconzi. “That’s about the only thing we know for sure. Since it is well-proven that nothing can travel faster than the speed of light, a Big Rip scenario is a natural consequence of the equations. The universe would vanish in front of your eyes. Basically, you don’t want to be around for it.”

22 billion years is a comfortably long time away. I quite like this one though, it seems like exactly the scenario I would want to watch from my table at Milliways, the Restaurant at the End of the Universe.

“There is a theory which states that if ever anyone discovers exactly what the Universe is for and why it is here, it will instantly disappear and be replaced by something even more bizarre and inexplicable.

There is another theory which states that this has already happened.”
― Douglas Adams, The Restaurant at the End of the Universe

This article originally appeared on TheMittani.com, written by Feiryred.

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