UCSB Science Line
Sponge Spicules Nerve Cells Galaxy Abalone Shell Nickel Succinate X-ray Lens Lupine
UCSB Science Line
How it Works
Ask a Question
Search Topics
Our Scientists
Science Links
Contact Information
I have been reading a lot of books on how the universe started and if it is expanding or not. I would like to know if scientists know if the universe will keep on expanding forever or not. I would also like to know how scientists know if the universe will keep on expanding forever or not (if they do know). Thanks a lot.
Question Date: 2005-06-08
Answer 1:

We believe that the universe will expand forever; not only that, but it seems to be speeding up in its expansion rate! How do we know this? Astronomers can measure the spectrum of light from the farthest and brightest objects we can see, supernovas, and can tell that the distance you calculate from their red shifts does not agree with the distance you get just by looking at how bright their light is. So we think they are actually farther away than they appear, which means the universe is expanding at an increasing rate. Eventually everything will just disappear from view!

Another piece of information that astronomers look at is the Cosmic Microwave Background Radiation (CMBR) - the oldest light we can observe. That tells us that there was a time, about 14 billion years ago, when the universe was like a ball of plasma, like the Sun. We can't observe any electromagnetic radiation from any time before that, because the universe was opaque, like the sun.

Answer 2:

What scientists know about the universe stems from Einstein's General Theory of Relativity. Even though the theory is almost 100 years old, there are several possibilities depending on the initial conditions of the actual universe. In particular the total mass and energy content are the parameters that need to be known in order to predict -according to that theory- the subsequent evolution of the universe.

One way scientists work to answer questions like yours is to become acquainted with the theory for some of these possibilities and then see what the universe will look like in each case. Computer simulations have played an important role in this task. The next step is to compare the results of each of these possibilities with what we know about the actual universe from different kinds of observations. One such observation is the way galaxies cluster (form groups) depending on the values of the amount of mass and energy in the universe. According to theory, the result that more closely resembles observations is for a content of mass and energy such that the predicted evolution of the universe is for a never-ending expansion.

Answer 3:

Scientists are currently aware that the universe is still expanding. Whether it will expand forever or not is still highly debatable. Scientists know that the universe is expanding by using the Doppler effect. Have you ever heard a motorcycle pass by? As its buzzing sound approaches it seems to get louder and then as it passes it just 'zooms' by in a different type of tone. This an example of the Doppler effect -- The change in pitch is a result from a shift in the frequency of sound waves. In astronomy they look at the Doppler effect using light waves.

Astronomers first used the Doppler effect to find how fast stars or other object moved toward or away from the Earth. To do this they looked at shifts in spectrum of gases from the star compared to the same gases on Earth. For the universe they believe it is expanding by looking at the spectral shifts caused by the Doppler effect of the edge of material blown up by the Big Bang. Predicting the future of the universe expanding or contracting is very tough. As you can imagine it isn't easy to think about how our universe (space) can be expanding and taking up more space!

Click Here to return to the search form.

University of California, Santa Barbara Materials Research Laboratory National Science Foundation
This program is co-sponsored by the National Science Foundation and UCSB School-University Partnerships
Copyright © 2020 The Regents of the University of California,
All Rights Reserved.
UCSB Terms of Use