Did You Know: Fate of the Universe

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Did you know that scientists are not sure how the universe will end?

Produced by the Space Telescope Science Institute’s Office of Public Outreach in collaboration with NASA’s Universe of Learning partners: Caltech/IPAC, NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory, and Sonoma State University.

Written by Margaret Carruthers
Designed by  Leah Hustak and Dani Player
Editorial and design input from Dr. Brandon Lawton, Dr. Frank Summers, Timothy Rhue II, Claire Blome, Leah Ramsay, and Forrest Ross. 
Music courtesy of Music for Non-Profits 


 Text, Did you know? Fate of the Universe. 

Graph, x axis is labeled Time. Y axis is labeled Size of the Universe. Text, Scientists don't know how the universe will end. 

A line is plotted starting at point 0, 0, the Big Bang. Text, We know that the universe is expanding and that the rate of expansion is increasing over time. 

The line on the graph meanders east north east with illustrations that depict the growth of the universe. Text, While gravity pulls things toward each other, a mysterious force known as dark energy causes the expansion to accelerate. We don't know for sure what will happen in the future. 

Before the discovery of dark energy, scientists thought that gravity could take over, causing expansion to slow down, stop, and then reverse. Graph, A dotted line leads down to the Big Crunch 

Text, However, current observations suggest that this is unlikely to occur. 

More likely, the universe will expand slowly forever, getting colder over time. Graph, A new dotted line curves to the upper right. Text, Eventually, the universe could end in a Big Freeze. 

Another possibility is that dark energy will take over and the expansion rate of the universe will increase faster and faster over time. Graph, a new dotted line curves up towards due north. Text, If this happens, galaxies, stars, and even the atoms that make them up would eventually tear apart, the universe ending in a Big Rip. 

Graph, all three dotted lines now appear, Big Crunch, Big Freeze and Big Rip. Text, We continue to study the nature of energy and matter to better understand how the universe will change over time.