10 Ways the Universe Could End

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We live in strange times, when the end of the world is an odd, morbid fascination with the general population. Apocalyptic TV shows and movies are have never been more popular, but chances are if everything were to come to an end, it wouldn’t result in fighting zombies or racing around like Max Rockatansky. We’re talking about the actual end of existence. If the universe were to end, humans would be wiped away life a speck of sand on a beach. We wouldn’t be able to stop it and in most cases, we wouldn’t even know it was happening.

10. Intelligent Destruction

HIROSHIMA MUSHROOM CLOUD NUCLEAR BOMB EXPLOSION

Before nuclear weapons were invented, the idea that one bomb could wipe out a city was unheard of. But August 6, 1945, in Hiroshima changed that concept and a new technology was unleashed on the world that showed how much damage humans could do if they worked at it. It makes for an interesting point – we have no idea what is going to happen tomorrow and what we’ll create. This is the basis of Intelligent Destruction; that an intelligent being will somehow do something or create something that will end up destroying the universe.

The good news is that it doesn’t even look like we even have enough nuclear weapons to destroy the Earth. But then the question then comes, what if we aren’t the only intelligent beings in the universe? What if some intelligent beings have already done something and the universe is already being destroyed or is dying because of something they did?

9. The Simulation is Turned Off

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One of the most mind-blowing theories about reality is that life is just a computer simulation. According to Oxford University’s Nick Bostrom’s simulation argument, since computers are always getting better, then at some point we will have the computing power to create ancestor simulators. It’s just a matter of humans getting to that point without going extinct first.

There are other theories that help back up Bostrom’s argument, such as the idea that the universe may be two-dimensional, and not three. Then there’s the theory that everything in the visual universe is pixilated. Also, computing power is getting stronger and stronger. NASA has a computer right now that’s powerful enough to run a simulation that, in four months, could simulate 80 years and include every thought a person has.

While Bostrom’s theory may make you question reality, there’s an even bigger worry involved. What happens if the user turns off the program? Chances are, we wouldn’t even realize the universe had ended. In fact, the universe could have been turned on and turned off a few times and we would have no clue. Basically, all we can hope for is that whoever is running the simulation continues to play the game.

8. The Big Crumble

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The Big Crumble is a strange, yet theoretically possible phenomenon where everything in the universe simply breaks into pieces and falls apart. You and everything else made of matter would crack like porcelain and fall to pieces. Planets and stars would explode.

How would this happen? Well, it comes down to something called physical constants, which are properties that stay the same throughout the universe, like the speed of light or the mass of a proton. There are about 25 of these physical constants and their existence makes life possible in the universe. If just one of these constants in the universe were a little bit different, then life wouldn’t be possible.

The thing about physical constants is that they’re supposed to stay, well, constant. Oddly enough, physicists in Australia discovered that since the Big Bang, the fine-structure constant has changed in both space and time. That means that there may have been some degradation of physical constants over time and if that’s continuing, it could lead to the Big Crumble. The good news is that if the Big Crumble were to happen, it wouldn’t for 3,000 billion years.

7. Collide with Another Universe

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What’s outside of our universe? It’s a difficult concept to even grasp, but it’s believed that the only things outside our own universe are…more universes. While right now these other universes are parallel to each other, it could be possible that another universe could crash into our own. After all, if the multiverse theory is true and there are an infinite amount of universes with infinite possibilities that means there are realities where universes crash into each other. Could we be living in that reality?

Well, it looks like that may have already happened because the universe is lopsided. The good news is that if we did bump into another universe, it only caused a dent, but we may not be so lucky next time. If we collided with another universe, it would be devastating. The other universe could have physical laws completely different from ours. It could crash into us at a speed close to the speed of light. If we could slow it down, it would look like a mirror from the sky was crushing us to death.

6. The Big Crunch

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The most commonly held belief among physicists is that the universe started with the Big Bang. Ever since the initial explosion 13.8 billion years ago the universe has continued to expand. Most physicists believe that the universe is infinite, but others believe it is finite and that could be a big problem. If the universe isn’t infinite, that means at some point the universe will start to retract, like waves rolling back into the ocean. The universe will be pulled back into singularity and it will essentially collapse on itself.

The theory, known as the Big Crunch, is backed up by Einstein’s theory of general relativity. It isn’t something you should worry about though, because if it does happen, it won’t happen for billions.

5. The Oscillating Universe Theory

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While the Big Bang Theory is both the leading scientific explanation for how the universe began as well as a bafflingly popular sitcom, it doesn’t exactly work with some aspects of Einstein’s theory of general relativity. The reason it doesn’t work is because it doesn’t explain what was there before the Big Bang, or what caused it. This is important, because according to the current theory, the Big Bang came out of singularity, meaning it came from one single point. When physicists did calculations on the Big Bang, it doesn’t account for singularity.

This leads us to the oscillating universe theory, which is the idea that the Big Bang was started when another universe collapsed. This theory would mean that our universe could collapse again in a manner similar to the Big Crunch. From there, another universe would come into existence. What is interesting is that if the oscillating universe theory is correct, we do not know if our universe was caused by the first collapse or the millionth.

4. Barrier Death

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The size of the universe can be one of only two things – finite or infinite. Most physicists believe that we live in an infinite multiverse, but that doesn’t really work within the laws of physics. If the laws of physics are correct, then some physicists believe that the universe will keep expanding until it hits a physical barrier. It would be like pouring a large amount of water into a hockey rink; eventually the water will hit the boards and won’t expand anymore.

The good news is that if there is a barrier, the universe won’t hit it for 3.7 billion years. The bad news is that according to a physicist at UC Berkeley, there is a 50-50 chance that this might occur.

3. The Big Slurp

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The Higgs boson was first theorized in the 1960s, but its existence wasn’t confirmed until July 4, 2012 at CERN’s Large Hadron Collider. The Higgs field, which is where the boson is generated, is everywhere in the universe. Some elementary particles, which are particles that are not made of other particles, interact with the field and it gives them energy. What’s interesting is that the Higgs field could have two different states, the same way matter can be liquid and solid. The second state, which physicists aren’t sure exists, would be much, much denser than the Higgs field that we do know about.

So why is this a problem? Well, according to quantum mechanics there could be the transition between two states. The energy in the field is similar to peaks and valleys. Currently, the field is at its minimum potential energy state, which is a valley. Theorists believe that if it were to go to a different valley, it would destroy the universe. The good news is that it needs momentum to go up a peak and into the next valley, which isn’t likely to happen. The bad news is something called quantum fluctuation, which is a change in energy. This could lead to quantum tunneling, meaning that no momentum would be needed. It could just tunnel into a valley with a lower energy state. This would be disastrous for the universe, because the ultra dense Higgs field would create a bubble that would expand, potentially causing all atomic matter to collapse.

The crazy thing is that this could happen at any time. It could already be ready to bubble up, and this is according to Stephen Hawking. But, according to calculations, it probably won’t happen for another 10100 years. In case you weren’t sure, that’s a very, very long time from now. Also in the good news category is that if this does happen, the vacuum will hit us faster than the speed of light so everything will be gone before we have a chance to realize it.

2. The Big Freeze

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This scenario, which is also known as Heat Death, is based on Newton’s second law of thermodynamics. Basically, the law is that in a closed system, disorder in particles always increases. That means everything in the universe goes from order to disorder. Once it starts heading to disorder, it’s incredibly difficult to stop or reverse it. For example: food rots, metal rusts, and people die. This leads us to an important concept in physics called entropy, which is the measurement of disorder.

Entropy always increases, and the Big Freeze would happen when disorder in the universe reaches its maximum. Once entropy is at its maximum, all energy will be evenly distributed throughout the universe, but there will be no room for any reusable energy or heat to burst into existence. That means the processes that consume energy won’t work any more. Essentially, everything in the universe just comes to a halt and stops working, kind of like that guy in the office who’s about to go on vacation for a month.

1. The Big Rip

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One of the most mysterious and abundant forms of energy in the universe is dark energy. It makes up about 68.3 percent of the universe, but physicists really don’t know much about it. Before its discovery in the 1990s, physicists believed that the expansion of the universe from the Big Bang was either slowing down or had even stopped. Then in the 1990s, using supernova surveys, astrophysicists realized that the expansion was actually speeding up. It’s believed that dark energy is causing the acceleration.

Dark energy could be a problem, because it could lead to something called the Big Rip. This end of the universe scenario is based on the notion that dark energy gets stronger with time. There are also large areas of the universe full of dark energy, and these areas continue to push. If dark energy gets stronger and keeps pushing, that means it will start pushing galaxies apart from each other, and then planets away from stars, and so forth. The dark energy will get so powerful it will pull the nuclei out of an atom, and continue to pull apart everything in existence, leaving the universe ripped to shreds.

Robert Grimminck is a Canadian freelance writer. You can friend him on Facebook, follow him on Twitter, or visit his website.

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