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The Future According to the Big Bang Theory

Before observations of dark energy, cosmologists considered two scenarios for the future of the universe. If the mass density of the universe is above the critical density, then the universe would reach a maximum size and then begin to collapse. It would become denser and hotter again, ending with a state that was similar to that in which it started—a Big Crunch. Alternatively, if the density in the universe is equal to or below the critical density, the expansion would slow down, but never stop. Star formation would cease as the universe grows less dense. The average temperature of the universe would asymptotically approach absolute zero. Black holes would evaporate. The entropy of the universe would increase to the point where no organized form of energy could be extracted from it, a scenario known as heat death. Moreover, if proton decay exists, then hydrogen, the predominant form of baryonic matter in the universe today, would disappear, leaving only radiation.

Modern observations of accelerated expansion imply that more and more of the currently visible universe will pass beyond our event horizon and out of contact with us. The eventual result is not known. The Lambda-CDM model of the universe contains dark energy in the form of a cosmological constant. This theory suggests that only gravitationally bound systems, such as galaxies, would remain together, and they too would be subject to heat death, as the universe cools and expands. Other explanations of dark energy—so-called phantom energy theories—suggest that ultimately galaxy clusters and eventually galaxies themselves will be torn apart by the ever-increasing expansion in a so-called Big Rip.

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