General Knowledge

The Far Future of the Universe

What are you looking forward to? Summer vacation? The next episode of your favorite show? Curling up with a good book? How about the death of the universe, right? Isn’t THAT a cheery thought. [MUSIC] In the final scene of The Sopranos, Tony sits at a diner eating onion rings, Journey is playing on the jukebox, and a shady characters enters the restaurant one after another. All of a sudden Tony looks up and… Yeah, people were a little disappointed. They were disappointed because we never found out how Tony’s story ends. And it’s the same with your story, or mine. The ending hasn’t been written. But that’s NOT TRUE for the universe. Thanks to science, we know how it ends. SPOILERS: It doesn’t end particularly well. n just 100 years, we’ll all be gone. You. Me. Every person who’s alive today.

If the age of the universe up til now was condensed to one day, our lives would be over in less time than a bat is in contact with a baseball. On the scale of human lifespans, they may appear fixed in the sky. But they are moving, and in 100,000 years not a single constellation we know today will be recognizable. But since our brains are fine-tuned to see patterns, I’m sure we’ll find new ones. Speaking of bears, by this time the Cubs have almost certainly won another World Series. Of course NOTHING in science is guaranteed. Unlike Chicago’s World Series hopes, disasters are a matter of when, not if.

Some time within the next half a million years, Earth will almost certainly experience a climate-altering volcanic eruption, or be hit by a 1 km asteroid. Not enough to cause mass extinction, but still . . . I hope we’re viewing it from afar. As the Sun gets older, it’s getting hotter. 600 million years from now, our amped up sun will cause more carbon dioxide to be trapped in Earth’s crust. So much so, that photosynthesis becomes impossible for 99% of Earth’s plants. By 800 million years from now, every green thing on Earth is dried up, and all multicellular life with them. Unfortunately, that includes us. We wouldn’t want to be around for what comes next anyway. A billion years from now our amped up sun boils the oceans away, and only bacteria remain. But by 2.8 billion years in the future, even those tiny stragglers have run out of time. Life on Earth goes “POOF”. We had a good 6.5 billion years, didn’t we? Around this time the Milky Way collides with our neighbor Andromeda.

It sounds violent, but galaxies are mostly empty space. Maybe six out of a trillion stars explode into fiery balls of supernova death. Assuming our star makes it out in one piece, by this time it starts to run out of gas. By 7.9 billion years our sun swells up more than 250 times wider than it is today. Mercury and Venus are toast. That planet eating balloon deflates 9.5 billion years down the line, leaving a white dwarf in its place. At this point, things cool off for a while. Literally. In 150 billion years we lose sight of the Big Bang, the cosmic microwave background cools to a point that it’s undetectable.

And thanks to the expanding universe, we lose sight of all galaxies but our own. After a trillion years, stars stop forming in the universe, but it takes 110 trillion years for all them to flicker out. This is where the sky goes dark. the Earth is still around. Until 1 quadrillion years from now. Then, like all orbits, our orbit decays and we plunge back into the black dwarf that used to be our sun. Over the next 10^25 years, the dead star that remains will transform into a black hole. And those suck. Literally. But they won’t suck forever.

Even the largest black holes will likely evaporate, thanks to a phenomenon called Hawking radiation. As the minuscule leftovers continue to expand, anything that remains will be stretched so far apart that it really doesn’t, and isn’t matter at all. After that, the universe is basically empty. So what’s the point of anything if it all ends? In 2012, Sopranos creator David Chase finally explained the meaning of the final scene in The Sopranos. He said: “it’s a cold universe and I don’t mean that metaphorically. If you go out into space, it’s cold. It’s really cold and we don’t know what’s up there. We happen to be in this little pocket where there’s a sun. What have we got except love and each other to guard against all that isolation and loneliness?”

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