After the Big Bang comes the Great Fall, and in the end entropy eats us all. Astronomers finally have solid evidence that the world, the universe in fact, is coming to an end. Don’t hold your breath, however, as it will be a good 10 billion years before our Sun dies, and a solid 100 billion years until the last star burns its final ounce of hydrogen and grows dark (or perhaps is the final victim of the massive black hole that rends the fabric of the universe and creates a new Big Bang).
That said, researchers presented data on Monday at the International Astronomical Union XXIX General Assembly showing that stars are gradually dying and the universe is dimming. The new study (part of the Galaxy and Mass Assembly (GAMA) project) utilized a number of powerful telescopes to determine the energy output of around 200,000 galaxies. The astronomers examined both relatively nearby galaxies and galaxies far enough away to let us understand conditions billions of years earlier because it takes the light from those stars so long to reach our instruments.
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By examining 21 different wavelengths of light, the researchers could determine the energy output, the rate of star formation and the rate at which the galaxies were merging. When they put all the data together, the verdict not a surprise — the universe is dimming.
In fact, according to data from the new study, the energy generated in the section of the universe they studied was close to double two billion years ago compared to today.
Statement from lead researcher
“It’s going to be a long process; I guess we’ve got worse things to worry about at some level,” lead study researcher Simon Driver of the University of Western Australia commented drily in an interview with the media this week. “In about 5 billion years the sun is going to swell up and swallow the Earth; in about 10 billion years it’s going to collide with the nearest [major] galaxy, the Andromeda galaxy; and in about 100 billion years the universe will be so expanded and producing so little light that we basically won’t see anything.”
Of note, the new data have been submitted for peer review and eventual publication by the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.
Details on slow death of universe study
Earlier research had already shown that the universe were getting less bright in terms of production of ultraviolet light. This is first study to look across all wavelengths of light, and it strongly confirms the general trend toward darkness and empty space as stars are dying off in galaxies across this sector of the universe.
According to the generally accepted Big Bang theory, the universe reached a peak period of star formation many billions of years ago. There is not as much stellar material for stars to form with today. Over times, the usable energy that could make stars in galaxies gradually dissipates into other forms such as heat.
The universe will certainly not die over night. However, fewer bright young stars means fewer and fewer opportunities for life to evolve. Moreover, the results of this study obviously beg the question if the universe is so old it is beginning to dim, why have we not yet seen any sign of intelligent life?