The universe we inhabit is slowly but imperceptibly dying. This sad news may not come as much of a surprise to physicists who know about the concept of entropy.
The slow and sure death of the universe over a long period of time is not anything out of the ordinary. A group of astronomers studied 200,000 galaxies. They found out about the energy generated within a certain area of the universe. And it is only half of what it was two billion years ago.
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Yet it goes on fading and will end in total annihilation. Researchers from the International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research (ICRAR) in Western Australia used seven of the world’s top telescopes. The observation of the galaxies took place at different wavelengths.
The telescopes got employed by NASA and the ESA. The Anglo-Australian Telescope got used as well. The research is a part of the Galaxy And Mass Assembly (GAMA) project which is the largest multi-wavelength survey ever put together. All the energy distributed in space was the basis of the study.
“We used as many space and ground-based telescopes we could get our hands on, to measure the energy output of over 200,000 galaxies across as broad a wavelength range as possible,” says ICRAR, The University of Western Australia Professor Simon Driver, who heads the large GAMA team and presented the findings at the International Astronomical Union’s General Assembly in Honolulu.
After the Big Bang, the energy got spread or locked up in the form of mass. The stars (like our Sun) shine by converting mass into energy. Besides the loose energy, there is energy released into space thanks to stars. This extra energy fuses with stellar dust. Or it travels the expanse of the universe till it hits an object.
“While most of the energy sloshing around was created in the aftermath of the Big Bang, additional energy is constantly being released by stars as they fuse elements like hydrogen and helium together,” Professor Driver says.
“This newly released energy is either absorbed by dust as it travels through the host galaxy, or escapes into intergalactic space and travels until it hits something such as another star, planet, or very occasionally a telescope mirror.”
The death of the universe was a known fact. It became common knowledge in the 1990s. The latest information suggests that it is occurring across all wavelengths. The universe will die a slow and inevitable death. And while this may take a while, it is as certain as the death of insignificant beings such as us humans.
Charting the slow death of the universe is a complex process. It involved some of the most powerful telescopes on the face of the planet. As many of these telescopes got used as was possible.
"The Universe will decline from here on in, sliding gently into old age. The Universe has basically sat down on the sofa, pulled up a blanket and is about to nod off for an eternal doze," concludes Simon Driver.
The universe is a positively charged void. Some have even called it a hologram. It remains a mystery whether there are other alternative universes besides our own. This “multi-verse” theory is something that is intriguing.
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The heat death of the universe is an undeniable fact. But will the universe have an afterlife? That it may emerge from a black hole after the Big Crunch is something that remains a moot point. Maybe the largest entity (the universe) behaves in a manner like the smallest (at the micro-level).