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Universe on edge of collapse, at least on cosmological time scale

According to some scientists, we are far closer to a “cosmological collapse” than we think. They now believe that the so-called “Big Crunch” will start far earlier than previously thought, leading to the destruction of all matter and the end of time. From the point of view of science, this collapse is “imminent,” but, sleep peacefully, for us that means a few tens of billions of years.

Physicists Nemanja Kaloper at the University of California, and Antonio Padilla at the University of Nottingham have published a paper in Physical Review Letters, which proposes a new model of cosmological collapse and its implications.

Their ideas are based on the theory that the Big Bang will be followed by a “Big Crunch,” when the universe will collapse in on itself destroying everything in existence. The increase in the mass of matter in the universe will eventually cause gravity to become so powerful that it sucks the universe down into a centripetal spiral of self-destruction.

Matter in the form of planets, suns, cosmic dust, comets and asteroids will begin to clump together and galaxies and universes will fuse. In the end the universe as we know it will degenerate into a massive black hole or singularity and could also explode again into another Big Bang.

Another theory, called the Big Freeze, challenges this, saying the universe will continue to expand until the temperature reaches absolute zero. Stars and galaxies would move away from each other and gravity would be too weak to keep them together.

Eventually all stars would die out and there would be insufficient gas in the cosmos for new stars to form. The universe would become a cold dark place, devoid of life and the physical processes, we now know. Only black holes would survive, and then only temporarily.

There are other theories, but what this all reflects is our still limited understanding of cosmological processes. From this perspective, the researchers say that their study’s orientation isn’t so much to prove the timing of the Big Crunch as to expand our knowledge of what is going on in the universe.

Phys.org says,

“The main point of the paper is not so much when exactly the universe will end, but that the mechanism may help resolve some of the unanswered questions in physics. In particular, why is the universe expanding at an accelerating rate, and what is the dark energy causing this acceleration? These questions are related to the cosmological constant problem, which is that the predicted vacuum energy density of the universe causing the expansion is much larger than what is observed.”

The cosmological constant has been described as the “mother of all physics problems,” and is complex and difficult to understand. Originally, Einstein believed that the universe was neither expanding or contracting, but was static. To prove this, he invented the idea of a cosmological constant, which meant there was uniform energy throughout space which brought equilibrium to the universe.

But all this changed when it was found that the universe was, indeed, expanding and accelerating. Once the evidence was irrefutable, Einstein admitted he was wrong and described the cosmological constant as his “greatest mistake.”

However, this latest theory says Einstein spoke too soon and reinstates his idea of a cosmological constant, although in a revised form. Kaloper and Padilla say they have extended the cosmological constant to count as the total average vacuum energy density for the whole of space and the totality of time.

Einstein recognized that space was not empty, and neither was a vacuum. Quantum physics shows that miniscule particles are popping in and out of existence colliding with one another and disappearing again. Counted together across the universe, this energy becomes a gigantic force and is believed to be accelerating the expansion of the universe, as well as possibly acting as a repulsive force to gravity which tends to pull matter together.

Since dark energy has been theorized to be the force accelerating the expansion of the universe, it may be that dark energy is equal to the vacuum energy density and the cosmological constant.

Clearly, the new cosmological constant could no longer be given an equilibrium, zero-value, but would have to have a value of “more than zero.” But here is where the problems begin.

However, Space.com explains that, “the cosmological constant theory isn’t ideal, either. The expected value of the constant, based on known physics, is a number more than 10 to the power of 60 (one followed by 60 zeros), which is too large to explain the universe as we see it.”

Furthermore, according to NASA Science, Astrophysics, in the quantum theory of matter,

“Empty space” is actually full of temporary (“virtual”) particles that continually form and then disappear. But when physicists tried to calculate how much energy this would give empty space, the answer came out wrong – wrong by a lot. The number came out 10/120 times too big. That’s a 1 with 120 zeros after it. It’s hard to get an answer that bad.”

Therefore, Kaloper and Padilla argue that the non-zero value of the cosmological constant must be reduced. If the vacuum energy density is lower than thought, it would confirm Kaloper and Padilla’s new model, which indicates that the universe is now expanding in a “slow role,” which, according to them, is exactly what should happen before a reverse contraction takes place. Although the exact mechanism of this change isn’t properly understood.

Padilla told Phys.org that,

“According to the new mechanism, the Universe originated under a set of specific initial conditions so that it naturally evolved to its present state of acceleration and will continue on a path toward collapse. In this scenario, once the collapse trigger begins to dominate, it does so in a period of ‘slow roll’ that brings about the accelerated expansion we see today. Eventually the Universe will stop expanding and reach a turnaround point at which it begins to shrink, culminating in a ‘big crunch.”

The Mail Online quoted Professor Kaloper,

“Since observed masses are not zero and are inversely proportional to this quantity, (the universe) cannot be infinite,” he said.

“Ergo the lifetime of the universe must be finite in a consistent cosmological model which explains a tiny value of vacuum energy and finite particle masses.”

“This must be accounted for by a special dynamics, that implies existence of a sector which arrests expansion and turns it into collapse.”

“Very surprisingly, this predicts that the onset of collapse is immediately preceded by a period of late cosmic acceleration – as we now observe.”

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