Our universe will end without a doubt and no underground bunker will be safe. But relax, the end time is billions or even trillions of years away.
|Over the past millennia various spiritual groups have prophecised the end of the world. The chain of cataclysmic events, such as earthquakes and tsunamis, often feed apprehensions of the end time. Many religious texts and ancient scriptures foretell warnings about the end of the world. One such eschatological belief, attributed to the Mayans in contemporary times, postulates that the world will end in 2012.
None of the end of the world prophecies have come to pass. But the end of our universe is inevitable, according to cosmologists. But fear not, because the end will not come for trillions and trillions of years from now. And when it does occur, the underground bunkers will do you no good, as it would involve the end of space, time matter and energy — the ultimate destruction of everything.
Cosmologists debate over the diverse ways our universe could end, but there is no doubt in their mind about the ultimate destiny of the cosmos. In other words, there is no “forever” forever. The eternity we describe is a borrowed concept granted mercifully by the forces that govern the cosmos.
In cosmology, the end of the universe is as inevitable and inescapable as the laws of nature that predicted its birth. The cosmologists’ vision of the ultimate end is markedly differ from the scenarios that we can contemplate and much more complex than we can imagine.
The notion of the end inspired poets like Robert Frost, who wrote:
Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what I’ve tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To say that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice
Fire and ice, in fact, are two cosmological models of the world’s end. Of the numerous depictions about the fate of the universe, the most commonly accepted one is the Big Freeze, in which the universe will continue to expand forever, making it a cold and isolated place until the temperature reaches absolute zero. Beyond that point, molecular motion ceases and hence the existence of everything we know.
Before the Big Freeze, physicists contemplated a fiery destruction of the universe. If the universe is a closed system, eventually, the heat energy of the system,from sources such as stars, will be dissipated uniformly throughout the universe. The entropy, the measure of disorder, must increase in a closed system under the laws of physics. This will bring an end to any kind of motion or physical phenomena in the cosmos as well as any form of life. But this mode of death for the cosmos lost ground to the Big Freeze when astronomersrealized that the universe is expanding at an accelerated pace.
The apocalyptic predictions for the planet earth and its inhabitants have been plentiful down the ages. For example, Biblical references to the end, though mostly metaphorical in nature, are major elements of the old and new testaments of the Bible. The Book of Revelations in the New Testament and the Book of Daniel in the Old Testament are descriptive of the disasters that await the earth and humans. However, these revelations are mostly geo-centric; no surprise that neo-prophets and doomsday sayers draw their energy from these Biblical passages. Social upheavals and natural disasters have been a feeding ground for a generation of forecasters.
It may seem paradoxical that the father of modern science, Isaac Newton, is considered to have calculated the time for the end of the world based on the verses from the Book of Daniel. However, it is not surprising, considering his Christian faith that he searched for wisdom in biblical codes.
Newton’s theological and mystical writings were on display at an exhibition titled “Newton’s Secrets,” at the National Library of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in 2007. It was the first time that Newton’s theological manuscripts, in Israel since 1969, were presented to the public. In one of them, Newton calculated that the world will end in 2060, based on a phrase from Daniel 12:7 “for a time, times, and a half.” Newton interpreted this phrase as meaning 1,260 years would pass from the establishment of the Holy Roman Empire by Charlemagne in 800, until the end. It is not clear whether this was an attempt by Newton to put an end to, in his own words, the rash conjectures of fanciful men who frequently predicted the end time, and by so doing discrediting sacred prophesies, which commonly fail.
For modern day scientists, many causes could bring an end to this dynamic planet and the life that it harbors. A huge asteroid impact, a super volcano or man-made disasters, such as global warming or nuclear war, all are capable of creating global calamity. But, suggesting a particular date for such events would be outside the realm of science. The laws of nature that enable us to predict the exact date of tides and eclipses for decades to come do not suggest anything that can have a catastrophic effect on this planet. Yet, the potential disasters remain a possibility in the grand cosmic scheme, where this small rocky planet and its masters are an insignificant breed of chemical beings that could be terminated. The so-called judgment day and the end of the Mayan calendar, which have been popularized recently, lacks any scientific basis. These silly spiritualists have betted on many dates in the past and they are as surely off base this time around as well.
For cosmologists, the fate of this planet or its solar system is just one item on the big menu. It has been estimated that the earth’s continents will collide in 250 million years and the sun will fade away as a white dwarf in about 7 billion years. This blue dot we know as earth will be engulfed by the sun well before that. The fate of the universe, on the other hand, evolves on a larger time scale — in trillions of years.
However, if the expansion of the universe continues at an accelerated pace, as it does now, it will be torn apartby dark energy at some point. From majestic galaxies to paltry subatomic particles, everything will be shredded by this phantom energy. The universe will be a great void caused by this Big Rip, another doom predicted for the cosmos.
Death by ice or fire seems like a classical choice — simple and elegant. But, the current understanding of the universe offers more possibilities. The theory branded as Big Crunchis exactly the opposite end of thesymmetric picture generated by the Big Bang. In the far future, the universe will stop expandingand begin contracting. All the matterand even space-time will collapse into a singularity, similar to what existed before the Big Bang. Some researchers, like Martin Bojowald of Pennsylvania State University, believe that the Big Crunch will create a repulsive gravitational force that will result in a Big Bounce, which in turn will be the springboard for another universe. This oscillating cycle of Big Bangs and Big Crunches repeat in sequence — in that sense one could argue the universe is infinite and eternal.
Lately, a growing number of researchers consider the cosmic cycles of death and rebirth as another possibility, a variation of oscillating cycles. The Hindu cosmological picture, which asserts the cyclic nature of the universe, is not very optimistic for those who seek eternity. Hindu cosmology posits that the world passes though four Yugas — Satya Yuga, Treta Yuga, Dvapara Yuga and Kali Yuga. Based on the ancient Hindu time scales, we are currently 5,000 years into Kali Yuga, which will last a total of 432,000 years, In this Yuga, infamously popular as the last Yuga, ignorance and evil grow ever greater in society. Finally, the tenth avatar of Vishnu, Kalkin, will put an end to evil at the end of this age. It is predicted that at the end of the Kali Yuga, the universe will be recycled by the Lord of Destruction Shiva. After the dissolution, Lord Brahma will recreate the universe and everything will repeat and the cycles will go on.
Physicists predict that trillions of years into the future, the information that currently allows us to model how the universe expands will vanish from the visible horizon as galaxies drift away from each other making it impossible for light to reach beyond their horizons. What remains will be “an island universe,” comprising the Milky Way and its local neighbors in an overwhelmingly dark void.
Our descendants looking at the cosmos might say the Milky Way is the only galaxy and is the universe. Incredibly that is exactly what our ancestors thought. However, it is not just the universe that is evolving, but our intelligence and life itself. We cannot foresee how future generations will perceive the universe. They might not be interested in this cosmic illusion, as in trillions of years from now they may have transformed into beings that lose the desire to know anything and the great maya dissolves in Brahman.