How will the Universe End?
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How will the Universe End?

By Edmond Li

Most theories surrounding the mysterious end of the universe are focused on two significant concepts in astrophysics: dark matter and dark energy.

Dark energy is the main culprit behind the expansion of the universe, composing what we know as the “vacuum” of space, and produces an effect that repulses matter away from itself against gravity. This expansion of the universe has been observed to be accelerating. Because of this, some cosmologists speculate that the end of the universe would happen with a “Big Rip.” In time, dark energy could tear matter apart from within, starting with the largest galaxies and ending with the subatomic particles. To make sense of this, imagine the universe is a balloon with galaxies drawn on it. As the balloon expands, the galaxies will start to stretch and break apart, to the point where the balloon itself explodes.

The second principle of thermodynamics might also be relevant when discussing the end of the universe. This principle states that over time, in any isolated system, the density of energy will equalize. We can observe this in our daily lives. Take temperature, a measurement of the average energy of a particle in a system. If you put a hot object (which has a higher level of energy) next to a cold object (which has a lower level of energy) for a long period of time, the two objects will eventually have the same temperature. The hotter object will become cooler and the cold object will become hotter, as energy transfers from the hot object to the cold object. In this sense, the energy of the system (the two neighboring objects) distributes evenly over time.

Entropy is a physical magnitude that measures how well the energy is distributed in a system. Higher entropy means a higher distribution of energy (and a more equalized density of energy). Scientists have theorized that an implication of the second principle and this concept of entropy is that as the universe continues to age and expand, as galaxies, stars, and black holes drift away from one another, the heat of the universe diffuses (or, distributes throughout the cosmos). Everything, from black holes to cups of tea, will radiate away their heat and energy. The end product is the decay of all matter and ultimately a universe devoid of heat and a wasteland of energy. This theory is termed “Heat Death” or “Big Freeze.”


Regardless of how the universe ends, we know for certain that the death of the universe won’t occur until long, long after our own lifetimes. By then humanity will have either become totally extinct, possibly learned to travel throughout the galaxy, or even discovered the most complex secrets of the universe.


References

Scoles, S. (2023, August 29). Will the Universe Ever Stop Expanding? Scientific American. https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/will-the-universe-ever-stop-expanding1/