the end of the universe -- 2/7/24

Today's selection -- from Parallel Worlds by Michio Kaku. As the universe expands, temperatures will drop to near absolute zero:

“According to Norse legend, the final day of reckoning, or Ragnarok, the Twilight of the Gods, will be accompanied by cataclysmic upheavals, Midgard (Middle Earth) as well as the heavens will be caught in the viselike grip of a bone-chilling frost. Piercing winds, blinding blizzards, ruinous earthquakes, and famine will stalk the land, as men and women perish helplessly in great numbers. Three such winters will paralyze the earth, without any relief, while the ravenous wolves eat up the sun and the moon, plunging the world into total darkness. The stars in the heaven will fall, the Earth will tremble, and the mountains will disintegrate. Monsters will break free, as the god of chaos, Loki, escapes, spreading war, confusion, and discord across the bleak land. 

“Odin, the father of the gods, will assemble his brave warriors for the last time in Valhalla for the final conflict. Eventually, as the gods die one by one, the evil god Surtur will breathe fire and brimstone, igniting a gigantic inferno that will engulf both heaven and earth. As the entire universe is plunged into flames, the earth sinks into the oceans, and time itself stops. 

“But out of the great ash, a new beginning stirs. A new earth, unlike the old, gradually rises out of the sea, as new fruits and exotic plants spring forth copiously from the fertile soil, giving birth to a new race of humans. 

“The Viking legend of a gigantic freeze followed by flames and a final battle presents a grim tale of the end of the world. In mythologies around the world, similar themes can be found. The end of the world is accompanied by great climatic catastrophes, usually a great fire, earthquakes, or a blizzard, followed by the final battle between good and evil. But there is also a message of hope. Out of the ashes comes renewal. 

The twilight of the gods (by Willy Pogany, 1920)

“Scientists, facing the cold laws of physics, must now confront similar themes. Hard data, rather than mythology whispered around campfires, dictates how scientists view the final end of the universe. But similar themes may prevail in the scientific world. Among the solutions of Einstein's equations we also see possible futures involving freezing cold, fire, catastrophe, and an end to the universe. But will there be a final rebirth? 

“According to the picture emerging from the WMAP satellite, a mysterious antigravity force is accelerating the expansion of the universe. If it continues for billions or trillions of years, the universe will inevitably reach a big freeze similar to the blizzard foretelling the twilight of the gods, ending all life as we know it. This antigravity force pushing the universe apart is proportional to the volume of the universe. Thus, the larger the universe becomes, the more antigravity there is to push the galaxies apart, which in turn increases the volume of the universe. This vicious cycle repeats itself endlessly, until the universe enters a runaway mode and grows exponentially fast. 

“Eventually, this will mean that thirty-six galaxies in the local group of galaxies will make up the entire visible universe, as billions of neighboring galaxies speed past our event horizon. With the space between galaxies expanding faster than the speed of light, the universe will become terribly lonely. Temperatures will plunge, as the remaining energy is spread thinner and thinner across space. As temperatures drop to near absolute zero, intelligent species will have to face their ultimate fate: freezing to death.”



Michio Kaku


Parallel Worlds: The Science of Alternative Universes and Our Future in the Cosmos


Penguin Books


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