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The ultimate fate of the universe is a topic in physical cosmology, whose theoretical restrictions allow possible scenarios for the evolution and ultimate fate of the universe to be described and evaluated. Based on available observational evidence, deciding the fate and evolution of the universe has become a valid cosmological question, being beyond the mostly untestable constraints of mythological or theological beliefs. Several possible futures have been predicted by different scientific hypotheses, including that the universe might have existed for a finite and infinite duration, or towards explaining the manner and circumstances of its beginning.

Observations made by Edwin Hubble during the 1920s–1950s found that galaxies appeared to be moving away from each other, leading to the currently accepted Big Bang theory. This suggests that the universe began – very small and very dense – about 13.82 billion years ago, and it has expanded and (on average) become less dense ever since.[1] Confirmation of the Big Bang mostly depends on knowing the rate of expansion, average density of matter, and the physical properties of the mass–energy in the universe.

There is a strong consensus among cosmologists that the universe is considered "flat" (see Shape of the universe) and will continue to expand forever.[2][3]

Factors that need to be considered in determining the universe's origin and ultimate fate include the average motions of galaxies, the shape and structure of the universe, and the amount of dark matter and dark energy that the universe contains.

Emerging scientific basis

Theory

The theoretical scientific exploration of the ultimate fate of the universe became possible with Albert Einstein's 1915 theory of general relativity. General relativity can be employed to describe the universe on the largest possible scale. There are several possible solutions to the equations of general relativity, and each solution implies a possible ultimate fate of the universe.

Alexander Friedmann proposed several solutions in 1922, as did Georges Lemaître in 1927.[4] In some of these solutions, the universe has been expanding from an initial singularity which was, essentially, the Big Bang.

Observation

In 1931, Edwin Hubble published his conclusion, based on his observations of Cepheid variable stars in distant galaxies, that the universe was expanding. From then on, the beginning of the universe and its possible end have been the subjects of serious scientific investigation.

Big Bang and Steady State theories

In 1927, Georges Lemaître set out a theory that has since come to be called the Big Bang theory of the origin of the universe.[4] In 1948, Fred Hoyle set out his opposing Steady State theory in which the universe continually expanded but remained statistically unchanged as new matter is constantly created. These two theories were active contenders until the 1965 discovery, by Arno Penzias and Robert Wilson, of the cosmic microwave background radiation, a fact that is a straightforward prediction of the Big Bang theory, and one that the original Steady State theory could not account for. As a result, the Big Bang theory quickly became the most widely held view of the origin of the universe.

Cosmological constant

Einstein and his contemporaries believed in a static universe. When Einstein found that his general relativity equations could easily be solved in such a way as to allow the universe to be expanding at the present and contracting in the far future, he added to those equations what he called a cosmological constant ⁠— ⁠essentially a constant energy density, unaffected by any expansion or contraction ⁠— ⁠whose role was to offset the effect of gravity on the universe as a whole in such a way that the universe would remain static. However, after Hubble announced his conclusion that the universe was expanding, Einstein would write that his cosmological constant was "the greatest blunder of my life."[5]

Density parameter

An important parameter in fate of the universe theory is the density parameter, omega (), defined as the average matter density of the universe divided by a critical value of that density. This selects one of three possible geometries depending on whether is equal to, less than, or greater than . These are called, respectively, the flat, open and closed universes. These three adjectives refer to the overall geometry of the universe, and not to the local curving of spacetime caused by smaller clumps of mass (for example, galaxies and stars). If the primary content of the universe is inert matter, as in the dust models popular for much of the 20th century, there is a particular fate corresponding to each geometry. Hence cosmologists aimed to determine the fate of the universe by measuring , or equivalently the rate at which the expansion was decelerating.

Repulsive force

Starting in 1998, observations of supernovas in distant galaxies have been interpreted as consistent[6] with a universe whose expansion is accelerating. Subsequent cosmological theorizing has been designed so as to allow for this possible acceleration, nearly always by invoking dark energy, which in its simplest form is just a positive cosmological constant. In general, dark energy is a catch-all term for any hypothesized field with negative pressure, usually with a density that changes as the universe expands.

Role of the shape of the universe

The ultimate fate of an expanding universe depends on the matter density and the dark energy density

The current scientific consensus of most cosmologists is that the ultimate fate of the universe depends on its overall shape, how much dark energy it contains and on the equation of state which determines how the dark energy density responds to the expansion of the universe.[3] Recent observations conclude, from 7.5 billion years after the Big Bang, that the expansion rate of the universe has likely been increasing, commensurate with the Open Universe theory.[7] However, other recent measurements by Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe suggest that the universe is either flat or very close to flat.[2]

Closed universe

If , the geometry of space is closed like the surface of a sphere. The sum of the angles of a triangle exceeds 180 degrees and there are no parallel lines; all lines eventually meet. The geometry of the universe is, at least on a very large scale, elliptic.

In a closed universe, gravity eventually stops the expansion of the universe, after which it starts to contract until all matter in the universe collapses to a point, a final singularity termed the "Big Crunch", the opposite of the Big Bang. Some new modern theories assume the universe may have a significant amount of dark energy, whose repulsive force may be sufficient to cause the expansion of the universe to continue forever—even if .[8]

Open universe

If , the geometry of space is open, i.e., negatively curved like the surface of a saddle. The angles of a triangle sum to less than 180 degrees, and lines that do not meet are never equidistant; they have a point of least distance and otherwise grow apart. The geometry of such a universe is hyperbolic.

Even without dark energy, a negatively curved universe expands forever, with gravity negligibly slowing the rate of expansion. With dark energy, the expansion not only continues but accelerates. The ultimate fate of an open universe is either universal heat death, a "Big Freeze" (not to be confused with heat death, despite seemingly similar name interpretation ⁠— ⁠see §Theories about the end of the universe below), or a "Big Rip", where the acceleration caused by dark energy eventually becomes so strong that it completely overwhelms the effects of the gravitational, electromagnetic and strong binding forces.

Conversely, a negative cosmological constant, which would correspond to a negative energy density and positive pressure, would cause even an open universe to re-collapse to a big crunch. This option has been ruled out by observations.[citation needed]

Flat universe

In 1931, Edwin Hubble published his conclusion, based on his observations of Cepheid variable stars in distant galaxies, that the universe was expanding. From then on, the beginning of the universe and its possible end have been the subjects of serious scientific investigation.

Big Bang and Steady State theories

In 1927, Georges Lemaître set out a theory that has since come to be called the Big Bang theory of the origin of the universe.[4] In 1948, Fred Hoyle set out his opposing Steady State theory in which the universe continually expanded but remained statistically unchanged as new matter is constantly created. These two theories were active contenders until the 1965 discovery, by Arno Penzias and Robert Wilson, of the cosmic microwave background radiation, a fact that is a straightforward prediction of the Big Bang theory, and one that the original Steady State theory could not account for. As a result, the Big Bang theory quickly became the most widely held view of the origin of the universe.

Cosmological constant

Einstein and his contemporaries believed in a static universe. When Einstein found that his general relativity equations could easily be solved in such a way as to allow the universe to be expanding at the present and contracting in the far future, he added to those equations what he called a cosmological constant ⁠— ⁠essentially a constant energy density, unaffected by any expansion or contraction ⁠— ⁠whose role was to offset the effect of gravity on the universe as a whole in such a way that the universe would remain static. However, after Hubble announced his conclusion that the universe was expanding, Einstein would write that his cosmological constant was "the greatest blunder of my life."[5]

Density parameter

An important parameter in fate of the universe theory is the density parameter, omega (Alexander Friedmann proposed several solutions in 1922, as did Georges Lemaître in 1927.[4] In some of these solutions, the universe has been expanding from an initial singularity which was, essentially, the Big Bang.

In 1931, Edwin Hubble published his conclusion, based on his observations of Cepheid variable stars in distant galaxies, that the universe was expanding. From then on, the beginning of the universe and its possible end have been the subjects of serious scientific investigation.

Big Bang and Steady State theories

Einstein and his contemporaries beli

Einstein and his contemporaries believed in a static universe. When Einstein found that his general relativity equations could easily be solved in such a way as to allow the universe to be expanding at the present and contracting in the far future, he added to those equations what he called a cosmological constant ⁠— ⁠essentially a constant energy density, unaffected by any expansion or contraction ⁠— ⁠whose role was to offset the effect of gravity on the universe as a whole in such a way that the universe would remain static. However, after Hubble announced his conclusion that the universe was expanding, Einstein would write that his cosmological constant was "the greatest blunder of my life."[5]

Density parameter

An import

An important parameter in fate of the universe theory is the density parameter, omega (), defined as the average matter density of the universe divided by a critical value of that density. This selects one of three possible geometries depending on whether is equal to, less than, or greater than . These are called, respectively, the flat, open and closed universes. These three adjectives refer to the overall geometry of the universe, and not to the local curving of spacetime caused by smaller clumps of mass (for example, galaxies and stars). If the primary content of the universe is inert matter, as in the dust models popular for much of the 20th century, there is a particular fate corresponding to each geometry. Hence cosmologists aimed to determine the fate of the universe by measuring , or equivalently the rate at which the expansion was decelerating.

Repulsive force

Sta

Starting in 1998, observations of supernovas in distant galaxies have been interpreted as consistent[6] with a universe whose expansion is accelerating. Subsequent cosmological theorizing has been designed so as to allow for this possible acceleration, nearly always by invoking dark energy, which in its simplest form is just a positive cosmological constant. In general, dark energy is a catch-all term for any hypothesized field with negative pressure, usually with a density that changes as the universe expands.

Role of the shape of the universe

If , the geometry of space is closed like the surface of a sphere. The sum of the angles of a triangle exceeds 180 degrees and there are no parallel lines; all lines eventually meet. The geometry of the universe is, at least on a very large scale, elliptic.

In a closed universe, gravity eventually stops the expansion of the universe, after which it starts to contract until all matter in the universe collapses to a point, a final singularity termed the "Big Crunch", the opposite of the Big Bang. Some new modern theories assume the universe may have a significant amount of dark energy, whose repulsive force may be sufficient to cause the expansion of the universe to continue forever—even if .[8]

Open universe

If If , the geometry of space is closed like the surface of a sphere. The sum of the angles of a triangle exceeds 180 degrees and there are no parallel lines; all lines eventually meet. The geometry of the universe is, at least on a very large scale, elliptic.

In a closed universe, gravity eventually stops the expansion of the universe, after which it starts to contract until all matter in the universe collapses to a point, a final singularity termed the "Big Crunch", the opposite of the Big Bang. Some new modern theories assume the universe m

In a closed universe, gravity eventually stops the expansion of the universe, after which it starts to contract until all matter in the universe collapses to a point, a final singularity termed the "Big Crunch", the opposite of the Big Bang. Some new modern theories assume the universe may have a significant amount of dark energy, whose repulsive force may be sufficient to cause the expansion of the universe to continue forever—even if .[8]

If , the geometry of space is open, i.e., negatively curved like the surface of a saddle. The angles of a triangle sum to less than 180 degrees, and lines that do not meet are never equidistant; they have a point of least distance and otherwise grow apart. The geometry of such a universe is hyperbolic.

Even without dark energy, a negatively curved universe expands forever, with gravity negligibly slowing the rate of expansion. With dark energy, the expansion not only continues but accelerates. The ultimate fate of an open universe is either universal he

Even without dark energy, a negatively curved universe expands forever, with gravity negligibly slowing the rate of expansion. With dark energy, the expansion not only continues but accelerates. The ultimate fate of an open universe is either universal heat death, a "Big Freeze" (not to be confused with heat death, despite seemingly similar name interpretation ⁠— ⁠see §Theories about the end of the universe below), or a "Big Rip", where the acceleration caused by dark energy eventually becomes so strong that it completely overwhelms the effects of the gravitational, electromagnetic and strong binding forces.

Conversely, a negative cosmological constant, which would correspond to a negative energy density and positive pressure, would cause even an open universe to re-collapse to a big crunch. This option has been ruled out by observations.[citation needed]

If the average density of the universe exactly equals the critical density so that , then the geometry of the universe is flat: as in Euclidean geometry, the sum of the angles of a triangle is 180 degrees and parallel lines continuously maintain the same distance. Measurements from Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe have confirmed the universe is flat within a 0.4% margin of error.[2]

In the absence of dark energy, a flat universe expands forever but at a continually decelerating rate, with expansion asymptotically approaching zero; with dark energy, the expansion rate of the universe initially slows down, due to the effects of gravity, but eventually increases, and the ultimate fate of the universe becom

In the absence of dark energy, a flat universe expands forever but at a continually decelerating rate, with expansion asymptotically approaching zero; with dark energy, the expansion rate of the universe initially slows down, due to the effects of gravity, but eventually increases, and the ultimate fate of the universe becomes the same as that of an open universe.

The fate of the universe is determined by its density. The preponderance of evidence to date, based on measurements of the rate of expansion and the mass density, favors a universe that will continue to expand indefinitely, resulting in the "Big Freeze" scenario below.[9] However, observations are not conclusive, and alternative models are still possible.[10]

Big Freeze or heat death