This Week In Terrifying Theoretical Science

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.

Impending Galactic Collision? It’s More Likely Than You Think

Do you spend a lot of time thinking about the impending collision between our galaxy and the Andromeda Galaxy? Well, why not? Are you aware, sir or madame, that our two galaxies are rushing towards one another at speeds of no less than 110 kilometers per second? We’re caught on a speeding train that’s on the same track as another speeding train, except that we’re on the littler of the two trains and we’re certainly going to die. EVERYBODY PANIC.

Well, except for the fact that Andromeda is 2.5 million light-years away. But 110 kilometers a second is still pretty fast, right? It seems fast.

And it is pretty fast; at the current rate of speed, we only have 4.5 billion years to figure out how to avoid this galactic collision. That’s barely enough time for a star to form, a solar system to organize, a planet to evolve life, that life to evolve more complex life, and that complex life to develop intelligence, and that intelligence to develop the Internet. How could we possibly have enough time to figure out how to avoid this impending apocalypse?

Assuming it’s even apocalyptic, of course, since galaxies are mostly empty space and even though we use the phrase “galactic collision” and collision implies the hitting of things on other things, the reality is that the odds of any two stars physically colliding are tiny. Really, really tiny.

So, really, we don’t have anything to worry about. In 4.5 billion years, we’re going to have a kick-ass new galaxy that’s way bigger than all those other, lamer galaxies.

Assuming we aren’t all killed by a gamma-ray burst first. Space is awesome like that.