Our Universe is Dying

Brace yourselves: winter is coming. And by winter I mean the slow heat-death of the Universe, and by brace yourselves I mean don’t get terribly concerned because the process will take a very, very, very long time. (But still, it’s coming.)

Part of ESO’s VISTA telescope in Chile, one of seven telescopes used in the GAMA survey (ESO)

Based on findings from the Galaxy and Mass Assembly (GAMA) project, which used seven of the world’s most powerful telescopes to observe the sky in a wide array of electromagnetic wavelengths, the energy output of the nearby Universe (currently estimated to be ~13.82 billion years old) is currently half of what it was “only” 2 billion years ago — and it’s still decreasing.

“The Universe has basically plonked itself down on the sofa, pulled up a blanket and is about to nod off for an eternal doze,” said Professor Simon Driver from the International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research (ICRAR) in Western Australia, head of the nearly 100-member international research team.

As part of the GAMA survey 200,000 galaxies were observed in 21 different wavelengths, from ultraviolet to far-infrared, from both the ground and in space. It’s the largest multi-wavelength galaxy survey ever made.

Of course this is something scientists have known about for decades but what the survey shows is that the reduction in output is occurring across a wide range of wavelengths. The cooling is, on the whole, epidemic.

Watch a video below showing a fly-through 3D simulation of the GAMA survey:

“Just as we become less active in our old age, the same is happening with the Universe, and it’s well past its prime,” says Dr. Luke Davies, a member of the ICRAR research team, in the video.

But, unlike living carbon-based bags of mostly water like us, the Universe won’t ever actually die. And for a long time still galaxies will evolve, stars and planets will form, and life – wherever it may be found – will go on. But around it all the trend will be an inevitable dissipation of energy.

“It will just grow old forever, slowly converting less and less mass into energy as billions of years pass by,” Davies says, “until eventually it will become a cold, dark, and desolate place where all of the lights go out.”

Our own Solar System will be a quite different place by then, the Sun having cast off its outer layers – roasting Earth and the inner planets in the process – and spending its permanent retirement cooling off as a white dwarf. What will remain of Earthly organisms by then, including us? Will we have spread throughout the galaxy, bringing our planet’s evolutionary heritage with us to thrive elsewhere? Or will our cradle also be our grave? That’s entirely up to us. But one thing is certain: the Universe isn’t waiting around for us to decide what to do.

The findings were presented by Professor Driver on Aug. 10, 2015, at the IAU XXIX General Assembly in Honolulu, and have been submitted for publication in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

Read more/sources: ESO and ICRAR

Jason Major

A graphic designer in Rhode Island, Jason writes about space exploration on his blog Lights In The Dark, Discovery News, and, of course, here on Universe Today. Ad astra!

View Comments

  • This isn't, at all, "necessarily" true. As there is no way to measure dark energy, whatever it is, there is zero proof that energy that can be measured is the only "energy" that exists.

    It is, actually, literally, possible that the universe has DOUBLED its energy output in the past 2 billion years, we are just unable to measure or even know about it.

    The last thing anyone should be doing is talking in finite assertions, as though they have all or ANY of the required knowledge to do so, when the topic is the tiny fraction of the universe that we can see or measure

    • Because we do not know everything does not mean that we know nothing (Jon Snow). We can observe the observable Universe, and theorize about the rest; that's what drives research in the first place. It's all very open-ended and not finite at all... but evidence, based on what can and has been observed, is always required.

      • WTF? When did I say we knew nothing? WHAT I SAID WAS THAT WE DO NOT KNOW ENOUGH ABOUT "ENERGY" TO MAKE THE CLAIM THAT THE UNIVERSE IS PUSHING OUT HALF AS IT WAS 2 BILLION YEARS AGO..

        MAYBE, this story would be accurate if it said pushing out half the MEASURABLE energy, ENERGY WE ARE KNOWLEDGEABLE ABOUT AND DISREGARDING energy we cannot see or measure

    • Just another troll pseudoscientist like laurele or FALA trying to be wise. Keep deleting them.

      • A typical bait-and-switch comment intended to be either overly nitpicky and/or argumentative. In science writing you're DIYD/DIYD; include words like "may, might, could, observable, measurable," etc and you're accused of weasel-wording but if you don't you're making overreaching claims. *shrug*

  • "... the energy output of the nearby Universe (currently estimated to be ~13.82 billion years old) "
    The "Nearby Universe"? How old, then, is the not so "nearby Universe"?

  • only half of the story.....birth and growth of new universes, which we probably cannot detect and make sense like many things in our aging universe.

  • So what's new?
    Anyone even remotely interested in the "universe" knows about entropy.
    So this guy says he has big telescopes and measures stuff.
    And then he say's we're all dying.
    Or that's the interpretation picked up by media people who have no science background at all.
    And it goes "viral" throughout the stupid general media
    and grandma calls you in a panic.
    "Fifteen minutes of fame". I wouldn't give him 15 seconds!

  • I finally got around to watching the video. I did think it strange that he didn't at least mention dark energy... Also, he never mentioned anything about the energy output of the "nearby universe" being about half what it once was. What he said was that the energy output of a "fixed volume" of space has lessened, which doesn't seem surprising to me since the universe has been expanding over the past couple billion years and so there are presumably fewer galaxies in the same volume of space than there once were.

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