Universe may collapse in a 'Big Crunch' sooner then we thought, physicists say

The rather alarming concept of a collapsing universe has been proposed by physicists in a new study.

If the Big Bang started existence as we know it (around 14 billion years ago), then there’s the possiblity of the Big ‘Crunch’ bringing it to an end.

And that could happen – at least in space terms – relatively quickly.

That’s what’s being suggested by research published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

According to theoretical physicists led by Paul Steinhardt at Princeton University, the end of expansion of our universe ‘could occur surprisingly soon.’

Of couse, soon is a relative term, but the scientists say it may be ‘within the next 65 million years’.

So rest assured that neither you, I or an exceedingly long line of our descendants will still be around when it happens. But, generally speaking, 65 million years isn’t a long time.

If you go back 65 million years, you get to the end of the dinosaurs.

‘On a cosmic scale, 65 million years is remarkably short,’ Steinhardt told Live Science.

Once the expansion of the universe ceases and then starts to contract, all the matter and energy in existence would be contained into a tiny volume. All the stars in the sky would become squashed into a supermassive black hole with an event horizon billions of light-years across.

Eventually, it could result in another Big Bang and the start of a fresh universe.

What causes the contraction?

The researchers believe that a mysterious force known as dark energy that works contrary to gravity – pushing the massive bodies of the universe further apart.

Albert Einstein thought dark energy was a cosmological constant that always stayed the same.

But when these researchers attempted to model it, they conclude that dark energy is an entity called quintessence, which can decay over time.

The scientists say quintessance can either repel or attract, depending on the ratio of its kinetic and potential energy at a given time. For the last 14 billion years it’s been repelling but the team’s model showed this force could be in decline. Effectively, space could start to shrink.

‘Although the universe is expanding at an accelerating rate today, this paper presents a simple mechanism by which a dynamical form of dark energy (known as quintessence) could cause the acceleration to come to end and smoothly transition from expansion to a phase of slow contraction,’ the team write in their study.

‘That raises questions, How soon could this transition occur? And at what point would it be detectable? The conclusions are that the transition could be surprisingly soon, maybe less than 100 million y from now, and yet, for reasons described in the main text, it is not yet detectable today.

‘The scenario is not far-fetched. In fact, it fits naturally with recent theories of cyclic cosmology and conjectures about quantum gravity.’

If all this is head-scratchingly confusing for you, just take solace in the fact you won’t need to pack a suitcase and head for a different universe anytime soon. And, at any rate, it’s only a theory at this point.

You can read the full study here.

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