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The Big Rip: New Theory Ends Universe by Shredding Everything ^ | 06 March 2003 | Robert Roy Britt

Posted on 03/11/2003 3:48:01 PM PST by tictoc

The Big Rip: New Theory Ends Universe by Shredding Everything
By Robert Roy Britt
Senior Science Writer
posted: 12:04 pm ET
06 March 2003

A rather harrowing new theory about the death of the universe paints a picture of "phantom energy" ripping apart galaxies, stars, planets and eventually every speck of matter in a fantastical end to time.

Scientifically it is just about the most repulsive notion ever conceived.

The speculative but serious cosmology is described as a "pretty fantastic possibility" even by its lead author, Robert Caldwell of Dartmouth University. It explains one possible outcome for solid astronomical observations made in the late 1990s -- that the universe is expanding at an ever-increasing pace, and that something unknown is vacuuming everything outward.

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The question Caldwell and his colleagues posed is, what would happen if the rate of acceleration increased?

Their answer is that the eventual, phenomenal pace would overwhelm the normal, trusted effects of gravity right down to the local level. Even the nuclear forces that bind things in the subatomic world will cease to be effective.

"The expansion becomes so fast that it literally rips apart all bound objects," Caldwell explained in a telephone interview. "It rips apart clusters of galaxies. It rips apart stars. It rips apart planets and solar systems. And it eventually rips apart all matter."

He calls it, as you might guess, the Big Rip.

The standard view

Driving the known acceleration of the universe's expansion is a mysterious thing is called dark energy, thought of by scientists as anti-gravity working over large distances.

Conventional wisdom holds that the acceleration will proceed at a constant rate, akin to a car that moves 10 mph faster with each mile traveled. With nothing to cap the acceleration, all galaxies will eventually recede from one another at the speed of light, leaving each galaxy alone in a cold, dark universe within 100 billion years. We would not be able to see any galaxies outside our Milky Way, even with the most powerful telescopes.

That's the conventional view, remarkable as it sounds.

The Big Rip theory has dark energy's prowess increasing with time, until it's an out-of-control phantom energy. Think of our car accelerating an additional 10 mph every half mile, then every hundred yards, then every foot.

Before long, the bumpers are bound to fly off. Sooner or later, our hypothetical engine will come apart, regardless of how much we spend on motor oil.

Countdown to demise

Other theorists who have reviewed the Big Rip theory are not yet sold on the idea. Meanwhile, Caldwell's team has provided a precise countdown to total demise. The projected end is, reassuringly, 20 billion years away. If our species survives the next 19 billion years (and there are serious doubts about this, given our Sun's projected fate) here are some signs that scientists of the future will want to look for.

At this point, there is still a short interval before atoms and even their nuclei break apart. "There's about 30 minutes left," Caldwell said, "But it's not quality time."

And then what? Does the universe recycle itself? Is there something after nothing?

"We're not sure what happens after that," Caldwell says. "On the face of it, it would look like time ends."

The first explosion

Caldwell's study had humble beginnings. He and his colleagues, Marc Kamionkowski and Nevin Weinberg at Caltech, were considering how a sphere of matter collapses under its own weight to form a galaxy. In computer models, they tweaked with the dark energy factor and found that too much of it would actually prevent the sphere from collapsing. In extreme cases, the sphere exploded.

"That was our hint that there was something really unusual going on," Caldwell said.

It wasn't long ago, just before the accelerated expansion was discovered, that many cosmologists believed the universe might reverse course, that normal gravity would win, and that everything would fall back in a Big Crunch. More recently, solid observational data has all but assured the infinite-expansion model and the cold, dark, never-ending end.

The Caldwell group decided there might be a third possibility, leading to their new paper, which has been submitted to the Physical Review.

But there are many unknowns. It is not clear if the dark energy driving expansion is a force not currently described by physics, or if it is merely a different manifestation of gravity over huge distances. The repulsion could be a response to dark matter, unseen stuff that is known to comprise 23 percent of the universe, based on firm observations.

Dark matter has unknown properties, and it may be related to dark energy, Caldwell said. He notes that even Einstein considered that gravity might work repulsively, in a manner consistent with his theory of general relativity.

Dark energy, being quantified only recently, tends to be discussed as some strange new force, in addition to the four fundamental forces: gravity, electromagnetism, and the strong and weak nuclear forces that govern atoms. But the repulsion is possibly just the way gravity behaves in the presence of dark energy, Caldwell said. In that sense, it is not a new force.

Cautious reception

To turn dark energy into destructive phantom energy, Caldwell and his colleagues had to play around with a thing called the cosmological constant, a mathematical fix that Einstein applied to general relativity. Einstein later called it his greatest mistake, when Edwin Hubble found in the 1920s that the universe was expanding (seven decades later, that expansion would be seen accelerating).

The cosmological constant has been recently revived. Attempts to describe dark energy differ in how the density of dark energy varies with time. In some models, the density decreases slowly. For the cosmological constant, the density is a constant. For phantom energy, it must grow with time.

"We considered a more exotic form of dark energy which was more repulsive," as Caldwell explains is.

Abraham Loeb, a theoretician at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, has quantified the lonely effects of a forever-expanding universe. Loeb stands by that scenario, but he said Caldwell's idea is nonetheless interesting to explore.

"I think it's a logical possibility," Loeb told But he cautioned that altering the cosmological constant goes against current consensus.

"If I had to place a bet, I would bet in favor of the standard cosmological constant," Loeb said.

Sci-fi to reality

If Caldwell's team is right, cosmology would undergo a revolution. Sci-fi ideas like wormholes and time travel might suddenly enter the realm of hard science. All of this could sort itself out pretty soon, Caldwell believes. Observations over the next few years may actually show whether his phantom energy is possible.

"Who knows if it is right or wrong," Caldwell said of his theory. "I think we'll find out pretty soon."

In fact, recent observations from NASA's WMAP space probe have pinned down the physics of the universe with surprising accuracy. A little wiggle room remains for the cosmological constant. Yet more WMAP data are expected over the next four years. Other missions, including one called the Supernova Acceleration Probe (SNAP), could provide answers, Caldwell said.

Even if the Big Rip is a big bust, there's no guarantee of a pleasant ending.

Alternate final chapter

Paul Steinhardt, a Princeton University physicist, is, like Caldwell and Loeb, no stranger to strange ideas. Steinhardt advocates a cyclical universe, one that has no beginning or end but which instead is constantly starting over again.

Steinhardt theorizes within the generally accepted standards of the cosmological constant. He said the Big Rip is more exotic than most ideas but still conceivable, a projected possible result that is "straightforward and obvious for cosmologists."

Yet there is another entirely different possibility for the final moments of time as we know it.

In a theory put forth two years ago by Steinhardt and his colleagues, our universe is but a membrane, or brane, floating in a five-dimensional space. It is destined to collide dramatically with another brane. The idea, labeled the Ekpyrotic Universe, would replace portions of the Big Bang scenario while sticking to the presently accepted estimates of acceleration.

"Lest you get too optimistic, galaxies are destroyed in a far more violent way," Steinhardt said of the brane scenario. "They are vaporized at the next 'bang' -- the collision between branes … so, you either rip them apart or you vaporize them."

TOPICS: Extended News
KEYWORDS: astronomy; crevolist; realscience; whoops
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1 posted on 03/11/2003 3:48:02 PM PST by tictoc
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To: tictoc
It's all down in the Book of Revelation and Daniel in the Bible...GOd has His plan for the world and for each one of us...are you on board or are you gonna wait to find out? I highly recommend getting on board with God's plan~!
2 posted on 03/11/2003 3:51:34 PM PST by princess leah
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To: princess leah
Boggles my brain.

If I didn't believe in God already, I'd find religion after reading this.

It's simply too much, too large, too grand, to be a accident.
3 posted on 03/11/2003 3:57:15 PM PST by Stopislamnow
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To: PatrickHenry; RadioAstronomer; Physicist
Cosmology ping.
4 posted on 03/11/2003 4:00:54 PM PST by Lurking Libertarian (Non sub homine, sed sub Deo et lege)
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To: tictoc
I was getting tired of this universe anyway
5 posted on 03/11/2003 4:02:18 PM PST by woofie
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To: woofie

6 posted on 03/11/2003 4:06:20 PM PST by tictoc
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To: tictoc
Please forgive the mood I'm in today, but given the current state of world and national affairs, the end of the universe couldn't come a moment too soon!
7 posted on 03/11/2003 4:09:14 PM PST by Wolfstar (Time is not on our side. Let's roll.)
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To: tictoc
Better stock up on Superglue.
8 posted on 03/11/2003 4:09:43 PM PST by A Navy Vet
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To: tictoc
Silver Surfer and Galactus Bump.
9 posted on 03/11/2003 4:10:43 PM PST by Captain Beyond (The Hammer of the gods! (Just a cool line from a Led Zep song))
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To: Lurking Libertarian
Didn't the Clinton Administration end by shredding everything already?
10 posted on 03/11/2003 4:12:18 PM PST by VadeRetro
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To: *RealScience; Ernest_at_the_Beach; sourcery
11 posted on 03/11/2003 4:16:55 PM PST by Libertarianize the GOP (Ideas have consequences)
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To: VadeRetro
The Big Rip Off theory was posted only moments later by Bill Clinton.
12 posted on 03/11/2003 4:19:59 PM PST by Centurion2000 (Take charge of your destiny, or someone else will)
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To: tictoc
Well, I was going to pressure wash and paint the house this
summer. Guess there no point in doing that now.

13 posted on 03/11/2003 4:23:22 PM PST by davisfh
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To: tictoc
At this point, there is still a short interval before atoms and even their nuclei break apart. "There's about 30 minutes left," Caldwell said, "But it's not quality time."

Understatement bump.

14 posted on 03/11/2003 4:29:28 PM PST by 2 Kool 2 Be 4-Gotten
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To: tictoc
Making my reservation at the Restaurant.
15 posted on 03/11/2003 4:31:03 PM PST by js1138
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To: tictoc
Today, we're all living in a fast-food, throw-away universe type of society anyway.
16 posted on 03/11/2003 4:36:57 PM PST by judgeandjury (The more numerous the laws, the more corrupt the state.)
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To: tictoc
What if the universe is just a single cell (or the nuclius of a single cell) dividing itself.
17 posted on 03/11/2003 4:40:41 PM PST by Paul C. Jesup
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To: tictoc
The Big Rip: New Theory Ends Universe by Shredding Everything

The universe is run by Arthur Andersen?

18 posted on 03/11/2003 4:45:32 PM PST by Cachelot (~ In waters near you ~)
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To: Alamo-Girl
This one's for you...
19 posted on 03/11/2003 4:51:19 PM PST by sourcery (The Oracle on Mount Doom)
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To: princess leah

Just remember that you're standing on a planet that's evolving

And revolving at nine hundred miles an hour,

That's orbiting at nineteen miles a second, so it's reckoned, A sun that is the source of all our power.

The sun and you and me and all the stars that we can see

Are moving at a million miles a day

In an outer spiral arm, at forty thousand miles an hour, Of the galaxy we call the 'Milky Way'.

Our galaxy itself contains a hundred billion stars.

It's a hundred thousand light years side to side.

It bulges in the middle, sixteen thousand light years thick,

But out by us, it's just three thousand light years wide.

We're thirty thousand light years from galactic central point.

We go 'round every two hundred million years,

And our galaxy is only one of millions of billions in this amazing and expanding universe.

The universe itself keeps on expanding and expanding In all of the directions it can whizz

As fast as it can go, at the speed of light, you know, Twelve million miles a minute, and that's the fastest speed there is.

So remember, when you're feeling very small and insecure, How amazingly unlikely is your birth,

And pray that there's intelligent life somewhere up in space, 'Cause there's bugger all down here on Earth.

20 posted on 03/11/2003 4:53:10 PM PST by Hazzardgate
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