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On The Expanding Universe

The universe, possibly, started forming nearly 13.8 billion years ago, and it has been expanding since then. It is like a balloon has been gradually getting filled with air. Many, here, have a fair knowledge of the initial stage of the formation of the universe. However, its future is still uncertain. Observations suggest that the expansion of the universe will continue forever. As per the prevailing theory, the universe will cool down as it expands, eventually becoming too cold to sustain life. For this reason, this future scenario, once popularly called Heat Death, is now known as the Big Chill or Big Freeze. Meanwhile, a section of scientists believes that the universe will start sinking after reaching the peak of its expansion. One can get a glimpse of the contraction of the expanding universe in Stephen Hawking’s famous publication, A Brief History of Time. Hawking did not speak of definite contraction, but of a possibility. Hence, the fate of the universe still remains a mystery.

Speaking at the National Space Science Symposium, Dr Somak Raychaudhury, the Director of the Inter-University Centre for Astronomy and Astrophysics (IUCAA) of India, recently tried to arrive at a logical solution to this mystery. On December 9, 2022, he said there was no possibility that the universe would collapse in the near future. Instead, data on different constellations sent by the high-quality telescopes, stationed at space, show that the universe is constantly expanding, added Dr Raychaudhury. In fact, the speed of rate at which the universe is expanding is gradually increasing.

This expansion is also quite interesting to observe. With the help of powerful telescopes, scientists are collecting data on galaxies, situated hundreds of billions of light years away, in order to get an idea about their rate of expansion. They have observed that the galaxies are moving further away at a certain speed. It is also possible to understand the history of the universe in this study. Interestingly, constellations, situated billions of light-years away, send data of billions of years ago. The greater distance the said constellation is from the Earth, older the data it is would be providing, and the shorter the distance, the shorter the relative time interval.

According to Dr Raychaudhury, various studies of constellations, carried out in the past two decades, have shown that the speed of expansion (as well as the size of the universe) has increased since the birth of the universe. In fact, the universe, during its birth, released a huge amount of energy in space, and the energy was converted to form planets and stars. So, the energy of the universe has reduced. The speed should also decrease by this logic. Based on that calculation, scientists previously assumed that when expansion would reach its peak, objects in the universe would begin to contract under the influence of the gravitational force, and the universe would continue to shrink. Meanwhile, Dr Raychaudhury has explained that there is something in the universe that causes repulsion, instead of attraction. However, the reason for that repulsion is unknown.

One may wonder whether there will be an end of this gradual expansion of the universe. So far, scientists have failed to solve this mystery.

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