What Will Happen When The Universe Comes to An End?


The Sunday Nation


31 July 2005


Last week we attempted to find out what was there before the beginning of the universe and came to an interesting conclusion: there was no time, therefore, “before the beginning” did not exist. But someone has asked what will be there “after the end”.

To answer that, we need to ask two things, first will the universe come to an end and second, how will it end. There is a body of opinion that believes that the universe will end. The reasoning starts from the fact that the universe is expanding.

Observation of galaxies reveals that they are all flying away from us at very high speeds. The farther away the galaxy is the faster it is moving. It would be very tempting to assume that we are at the centre of the universe and that we are stationary, but, after the mistakes made but the early astronomers regarding the positions of Earth and the Sun in the solar system, that assumption is not given much credit.

To understand this, think of a transparent balloon being inflated. If there are dots drawn on the balloon. They will get farther apart as it grows bigger. Now, suppose further that there was an ant resting on one of the dots; what would it see?

From its point of view, the ant would see all the dots moving away from it as the balloon inflates. But it would not notice its own movement. This is probably the same picture we see from Earth – galaxies flying away from us, but we are not able to detect our own movement.

Now, if the universe is expanding, is it reasonable to expect that it will continue with this expansion forever and ever? Many cosmologists think not. It has been postulated that a time will come when this expansion will stop. Then, due to the mutual gravitational attraction, all galaxies will start flying towards each other and eventually collide and compress into one huge lump of matter.

But since thus lump will be so massive, the gravitational compression will continue until everything fits into a small point – smaller than the sharp tip of a pin! This is the so-called “big crunch”, as opposed to the “big bang” that was at the beginning.

If and when the big crunch occurs, everything will come to a stop. There will no change, therefore no time, therefore (as in the beginning) there will be no “after the end”.

But then a bright spark comes up with this idea: immediately before the big bang happed, everything was concentrated in a single point, and right after the big crunch, all matter will converge to one position; isn’t it therefore possible that another big bang will ensue after the crunch?

If yes, isn’t it also possible that the universe goes through a ban-crunch-bang-crunch cycle? When did this cycle begin? What started it…and many other questions start popping up. But I think any attempt to answer them would be stretching our suppositions a bit too much. After all, we are not even sure whether a crunch will occur!

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