If you ever need something to cause you to reflect on the futility of life, look up “fate of the Universe” on Google and do a bit of reading. The Big Freeze, the Big Rip, the Big Crunch . . . there aren’t too many scenarios in which the Universe makes it out alive at the end of time. Even the most optimistic scenario, the Big Bounce, still ends with this universe dying so a new one can take its place.
But that’s deep time. The Big Freeze will be about 10^100 years from now, which is an unimaginably vast length of time. Even the soonest possible fate, the Big Rip, will still take 22 billion years. Nothing for us to worry about, right?
Except that maybe we won’t have to wait that long. Turns out the Universe could collapse at any moment:
Danish scientists say an expanding bubble of existential doom could crush the Universe into a tiny ball. And crazily, the odds of this collapse is higher than previously thought.
This theory isn’t actually new. But the scientists who conducted the new study say previous calculations were incomplete. Their new, more precise calculations, now show that (1) the universe will probably collapse, and (2) a collapse is even more likely than the old calculations predicted.
You can check out the article for the how and what for what a Universal collapse would actually mean, but practically speaking, it’s The End. Of everything.
That’s not the scary part. We already knew the Universe is going to die someday; current physics do not allow for a scenario in which the Universe survives forever, as mentioned before.
The scary part is that it could be happening right now:
“The phase transition will start somewhere in the universe and spread from there,” says Jens Frederik Colding Krog, PhD student at the Center for Cosmology and Particle Physics Phenomenology (CP3) and co-author of an article on the subject that appears in the Journal of High Energy Physics. “Maybe the collapse has already started somewhere in the universe and right now it is eating its way into the rest of the universe. Maybe a collapse is starting right now, right here. Or maybe it will start far away from here in a billion years. We do not know.”
The good news, if you want to call it that, is that if a Universal collapse is happening right now on the other side of the Universe, it would travel at the speed of light, meaning that it would take a while to reach us. On the other hand, we’d probably know about it juuuust long enough to panic and contemplate our coming demise.
So, you know, there’s that.
Actually, there is other good news; all it would take is the existence of other, currently unknown elementary particles to call the whole model of collapse into question.
Hopefully you’re out there somewhere, little particles. I rather like existing and would hate to see all of reality buckle in on itself. It would seem a rather ignominious end.