The most up-to-date measurement of the expansion rate of the universe seems to indicate that the cosmos is expanding much faster than previously thought. Though you might think this sounds like good news, think again. That is, unless you're looking forward to the end times.
There is growing consensus among scientists that the universe is steadily getting larger, but this increase in size isn't due to the cosmos getting filled with more "stuff." Rather, it means that the space between all the stuff is stretching. In other words, everything is moving further and further apart from everything else.
If this doesn't smack you with a sudden pang of profound loneliness, it gets worse. As the universe expands, heat will become more evenly distributed across that widening space, meaning that the universe is also cooling off. Eventually, the cosmos will enter a deep, distant freeze, and time will essentially end. It's in this way that scientists who are measuring the expansion rate of the universe are also calculating its time of death.
Worse yet, this cosmological doomsday clock just got sped up. The universe appears to be expanding 8 percent faster than previous calculations had indicated, reports Nature.
The surprising find is not just profoundly depressing, it could also cause a profound paradigm shift in how we understand the laws of cosmology.
“I think that there is something in the standard cosmological model that we don't understand,” said astrophysicist Adam Riess, who led the study.
The main factors that determine the expansion rate of the universe are dark matter and dark energy. Dark matter's gravity binds everything together, while dark energy pushes everything apart. Discovering that the universal expansion rate is faster than previously thought might indicate that our understanding of these forces is insufficient. It might even mean that dark energy is mysteriously getting stronger with time.
The silver lining in all of this, insofar as there is one, is that even factoring in the increased expansion rate, the universe is not set to end for a very long time. The end times are not near, not by any stretch of the imagination. And who knows, maybe the next discovery will bring about a new theory with a rosier outlook.
If this latest measurement proves anything, it's that there's much we still have to learn about the ultimate fate of existence. And with uncertainty, perhaps there's also hope.