“End? No, the journey doesn’t end here. Death is just another path, one that we all must take. The grey rain-curtain of this world rolls back, and all turns to silver glass, and then you see it.” –J.R.R. Tolkien

There’s a realization we all face at some point in our lives: that not only are we going to someday have our lives come to an end, but that everything that exists in the Universe will cease to be in its current form. All life will wither away, the last stars will burn out, the galaxies themselves will be driven apart from one another, the individual stars and planets will be ejected, and even the black holes left over will decay away into pure, cold radiation.

Image credit: XMM-Newton, ESA, NASA.

Image credit: XMM-Newton, ESA, NASA.

When all this passes away, what will be left? The fabric of space and time itself, which contains the entire Universe, and all the energy that’s ever been a part of it. None of that goes away, and all of it has the cosmic memory of whatever you did imprinted on it forever.

Image credit: Chris Kotsiopoulos, via http://www.greeksky.gr/greeksky/slides/Selections/album/slides/20100613MilkyWayChris.htm.

Image credit: Chris Kotsiopoulos, via http://www.greeksky.gr/greeksky/slides/Selections/album/slides/20100613MilkyWayChris.htm.

Go read the whole story on the deepest “Ask Ethan” ever tackled!

Comments

  1. #1 James Carlson
    United States
    October 31, 2015

    It could be that entropy doesn’t play to a full house in that the big rip might serve to recreate the universe in a sudden expansion of spacetime and the creation of sub atomic oaricles.

  2. #2 Wow
    October 31, 2015

    How?

  3. #3 See Noevo
    October 31, 2015

    To Wow #2:

    “How?”

    Maybe the same way it started.

  4. #4 Frank
    October 31, 2015

    Space-time itself contains what is called zero-point energy. Its value is not known for certain but I had read somewhere that one thing known about it is that it cannot get diluted as the Universe expands. It must be constant per volume.

    So if we assume conservation of energy applies and Dark Energy causing Universe to expand, that means Dark Energy must be getting spent and must run out someday, so the expansion would come to a stop.

    There are already observations underway to determine amount of Dark Energy some billions of years ago. My prediction is that it will be found to be higher than today.
    It maybe even possible to calculate when Dark Energy will run out then.

  5. #5 609silmät
    October 31, 2015

    As a non-scientist, I’d like to ask a very candid question: is it theoritically possible to maintain, through artificial means, the conditions for life once the universe gets completely cold? (This notion of coldness is what confuses me here)

    Let’s say our civilisation will have left the Earth for some planet that would be safe from the Sun’s expansion and explosion. Also suppose that we’ll be advanced enough to create artificial “stars” (note the quotation marks) – some kind of technology that would be able to replace a natural star for the warming needs of our new planet.

    Could we live this way? As a little lively grain in the vast dead universe?

    Or does the cooling of the universe mean that it won’t be possible to sustain any form of life, because of the near-absolute cold that would irremediably freeze everything?

    Wouldn’t it possible to fight the temperature decrease in our minuscule part of the universe? Still assuming we’ll have made tremendous progress in mastering the atoms.

  6. #6 jvj24601
    November 1, 2015

    The article did note give an actual time estimate of when the expanding universe would actually cause atoms & molecules to split apart or reach absolute 0 temperature.

  7. #7 Wow
    November 1, 2015

    “Its value is not known for certain ”

    It is known for “certain” in physical models it appears in. However

    a) We don’t *know* that that model actually is accurate it could be wrong
    b) zero point energy is (IIRC) 112 orders of magnitude higher than that observed as Dark Energy. That’s an error bar that’s too much even for cosmology!

  8. #8 Wow
    November 1, 2015

    ““How?”

    Maybe the same way it started.”

    So is the proposal that it started off an earlier universe?

  9. #9 Chris Mannering
    November 1, 2015

    “The fabric of space and time itself, which contains the entire Universe, and all the energy that’s ever been a part of it. None of that goes away, and all of it has the cosmic memory of whatever you did imprinted on it forever.”

    Ethan you are at risk of becoming the Kwisatz Haderach.following an involuntary seizure involving life altering visions and shit like that. Baby you’re the real thing. .

  10. #10 Chris Mannering
    November 1, 2015

    That having been said….you probably totally do know this, and this is a dense thing to point out. But that sadly ain’t true what you say there. Information, is maybe conserved. But not complexity. Complexity lives, and dies and all trace it was ever there at all fades to nothing.

    LIke if I build say a magnificent house of cards. That’s new complexity that wasn’t there a few moments before. When the cat knocks it down a few moments later, it’s as if it was never there.

  11. #11 Denier
    United States
    November 1, 2015

    The fabric of space and time itself, which contains the entire Universe, and all the energy that’s ever been a part of it. None of that goes away, and all of it has the cosmic memory of whatever you did imprinted on it forever.

    Maybe it is just me, but I’m thinking you are not going far enough in the future. The cosmic rate of expansion is ever increasing. It could very well get to the point where even the strong nuclear force is overwhelmed by the rate of expansion. It will be like a black hole in every direction and all the data that was ever in the universe is gone. That includes whatever you did. Merry Christmas everyone!

  12. #12 Wow
    November 2, 2015

    “But that sadly ain’t true what you say there. Information, is maybe conserved. But not complexity. Complexity lives, and dies ”

    Complexity isn’t information in the sense that applies when you claim it is conserved.

    So you’re incorrect here, you are comparing a conserved thing with the same name as another thing that isn’t conserved, changing the name to compexity, and saying (without proof, I might add) that it isn’t conserved all the time.

    All you’re claiming is conplexity is not always conserved.

    Then mistaking it for information.

  13. #13 Wow
    November 2, 2015

    “The cosmic rate of expansion is ever increasing. It could very well get to the point where even the strong nuclear force is overwhelmed by the rate of expansion.”

    Indeed.

    The “Big Rip”.

  14. #14 Carl
    USA
    November 2, 2015

    I’m considering why a house of cards is more “complex” than the jumbled pile after it falls. The “house” is at a higher energy potential, but is stable (within the state space of “no cat”). It’s not a lot of energy difference, but it’s there. It’s also more ordered; in a lower “informational entropy” state. I’m not sure there is such a beast, but there should be.

    But it takes the same amount of information to fully describe both the “house” and the “pile”. Define the (x,y,z,t) and derivatives for every particle and there you go.

    So what is it called, this thing that lets us talk about a system abstracted at a very high level? Compare a sorted deck of cards with a shuffled deck – one is easy to describe, the other takes a complete list of the order of the cards.

    Once that thing is defined, how does it apply to people? We are tiny excesses of potential energy compared to a lifeless body in a grave. Yet we can create unlikely things in this universe.

    A vacuum chamber where all the gaseous atoms are extracted under an ocean of atmosphere; an electronic miracle of mass slingshotting through our solar system and relaying photos back to Earth – what are the odds of those things and myriad more happening without human intervention?

    So what is the terminology for the “easy to summarize” state of being? What units is it measured in? Are there conservation laws or other relationships to the rest of the universe? Who studies this? I find it very intriguing.

  15. #15 Wow
    November 2, 2015

    “I’m considering why a house of cards is more “complex” than the jumbled pile after it falls. ”

    I don’t think “complex”means what you think it does if that is your consideration.

    The house of cards is more ordered. It is actually LESS complex, since it can be described in fewer position numbers than arbitrary positioning of the same group of cards.

    If you’re using “information theory” as your definition of what complex means. And if not, then you need to explain why you’re talking complexity here rather than chaos.

    “But it takes the same amount of information to fully describe both the “house” and the “pile”. ”

    No it doesn’t.

    Describe one card, then the rotations and translations that then describe the others, and the house of cards (or pile) are described in a way that can be coded up in the minimum number of values possible, leading to compression. And the house of cards is more compressible (therefore contains less information, or less chaos) than the pile. If it is in free space.

    If not, and the pile is in a gravity well, then the house of cards is only conditionally stable, at a local minima, but can easily be perturbed out of that state into a lower one.

    One where it has collapsed.

    In a gravity well, the pile will settle flat, and that condition is more compressible than the house of cards.

    “Once that thing is defined, how does it apply to people?”

    Why are you doing so? You have to describe the system, so it isn’t just “people”, it’s “people doing X”. Such as “Engaging in commercial activity”. See an economist for people who regularly do this thing to people in the abstract.

    “We are tiny excesses of potential energy compared to a lifeless body in a grave. Yet we can create unlikely things in this universe.”

    Where are you running off now?

    We use energy to make higher order where we need it. Total entropy is increased, but in the local system, it can be drastically reduced. See steel manufacture and look at its natural state after nobody has looked after it.

    “A vacuum chamber where all the gaseous atoms are extracted under an ocean of atmosphere”

    Put the pot pipe down and take a breather.

    “So what is the terminology for the “easy to summarize” state of being? What units is it measured in?”

    Finklesteins.

    Hey, if you’re going to babble on meaninglessly, why not answer the babble with more babble? Why should I have to put effort into working out what you said when you put so little into making it say what you wanted?

  16. #16 John
    November 3, 2015

    What an awesome God we have! Breathtaking!

  17. #17 Wow
    November 3, 2015

    You’re welcome. Any prayers accompanied by a wodge of money donated to me will be greatly appreciated.

    Need proof I’m god?

    Look around you: I MADE THAT!

  18. #18 Yup
    Everywhere
    November 5, 2015

    Just read the Urantia Book if you want to know what happens next. Not for the vocabulary challenged though, just a heads up.
    http://www.urantia.org/urantia-book

  19. #19 Wow
    November 5, 2015

    A heads up for anyone else, Urantia is a new age religion, no different from any of the other pseudo religions.

    Has bugger all to do with science or the the universe.

    The book is not for the rationally inclined.

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