The End of Everything – But…Not For Several Billion Years!

By Shlomo Maital

Katie Mack, North Carolina State U

    For many, the current pandemic does seem like the end of the world, at least as we know it. In both Israel and the US, a distressingly high proportion of people suffer from some form of post-trauma. 

     It is not the end of the world, of course — but it is still interesting to read what an expert, a cosmologist, thinks about the universe, of which our world is a tiny part, will end someday. Prof. Katie Mack has written a fine book about, The End of Everything (Scribner, 2020).  She was interviewed on Ira Flatow’s fine podcast Science Friday (NPR).

   So here are a few ways the universe will end.  In several billion years.

  • Expand into nothingness: We now know the universe is expanding outward, faster and faster, thanks to ‘dark energy’ (an energy source which we do not understand…yet). [“Wendy Freedman determined space to expand, so that for every 3.3 million light years further away from the earth you are, matter is moving away from earth 72 kilometers a second faster.] If it continues to expand forever…then in billions of years, the universe will expand into….nothingness.  
  • Implode into a new Big Bang.   Some 13.6 billion years ago, the universe imploded into a tiny space smaller than an atom, much smaller: and then exploded, becoming the Big Bang.   This could happen again. At some point, the universe may stop expanding, we’re not sure why or how – and then stop expanding, and start contracting, moving inward…and…. Wham, another Big Bang. Perhaps there has been an infinite number of such Big Bangs….explosion, implosion…. Etc.
  • A voracious bubble:     We do not understand why, in the Big Bang, there was not the creation of equal amounts of matter and anti-matter. (There is far far more matter than anti-matter – e.g. an electron is ‘matter’, a positron, with a plus charge, is anti-matter. And there are huge amounts of dark matter, matter we cannot see or explain, because otherwise the forces of gravity cannot be explained).   The laws of physics are thus violated. Somewhere there may be a ‘Hungry Bubble’ – a tiny place in the universe where the laws of physics are different… and this bubble may begin swallowing matter, sucking matter into the bubble and destroying it….      

       In this pandemic, humankind has learned a great deal of humility. We have been defeated so far by a few strands of RNA. Another dose of humility comes from cosmology. We humans on Planet Earth are just the tiniest of inconsequential specks, in this enormous universe, which grows larger and larger every second, as it expands. Life on Earth (if any remains) will end when our sun explodes in a few billion years. And long long after that, as Katie Mack shows, the entire universe will end…

     …but we don’t know how.

And: a small excerpt from one of the many sterling reviews:

     “ Astrophysicist Katie Mack provides insight into the myriad ways in which the world could end, extinguishing life in the process, and despite the topic being a morbid and sobering one I found it absolutely riveting, extensively researched and accessible throughout; it really is a rarity that a science book can have you so enthralled by what you are reading. It explores five different ways the universe could end and the wondrous physics, big questions, and mind-blowing lessons underlying them with each being discussed thoroughly and all being deeply interesting concepts to read about, if not a little scary.”