Tuesday, June 5, 2007

The asymptotic future

Our successors, whoever and wherever they are, may have no way of finding out about the Big Bang and the expanding universe, according to one of the more depressing scientific papers I have ever read.

If things keep going the way they are, Lawrence Krauss of Case Western Reserve University and Robert J. Scherrer of Vanderbilt University calculate, in 100 billion years the only galaxies left visible in the sky will be the half-dozen or so bound together gravitationally into what is known as the Local Group, which is not expanding and in fact will probably merge into one starry ball.

Unable to see any galaxies flying away, those astronomers will not know the universe is expanding and will think instead that they are back in the static island universe of Einstein. As the authors, who are physicists, write in a paper to be published in The Journal of Relativity and Gravitation, “observers in our ‘island universe’ will be fundamentally incapable of determining the true nature of the universe.” ...

[Future cosmologists] will puzzle about why the visible universe seems to consist of six galaxies, Dr. Krauss said. “What is the significance of six? Hundreds of papers will be written on that,” he said.
--Dennis Overbye, NYT, on the grim future in a universe where Jesus doesn't return to establish the new heavens and the new earth

3 comments:

Jess Austin said...

I have difficulty getting depressed about something scheduled for 100 billion years from now. Presumably the human race ceases to exist within the next 10 million years (probably sooner), and any biological, technological, or cultural descendants within the next billion years (probably much sooner). I'm not sure I follow the theological implications, though.

p.s. yay for Atom!

James Choi said...

Theological commentary: when Jesus returns and establishes the new heavens and the new earth, presumably the current universe will cease to exist. Furthermore, the Bible seems to indicate that the Second Coming will happen before the end of human history, so the current universe doesn't have a 100 billion years left on its clock.

Sophist said...

Have you heard of the membrane theory? It goes something like this: We are actually in one of two parallel universes that are separated by less than a trillionth of a meter in another dimention. Every several (or hundreds of billions? not sure) billion years, the two parallel universes collide and obliterate and start over again (making something like but actually not the same as our current definition of "Big Bang")... ad infinitum.

So maybe our near successors won't be able to find out about the "Big Bang", but then the ones in the next iteration post collision will observe it again, and forget it again... and again... and again.......