Monday, February 12th, 2001 #304
Tales From a Parallel Universe 1 And You Thought They Were Smart
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Similar to their previous high-minded physics-related argument, the argument between Alternate Mega Man and Bass in the first panel is a cosmological one about the future of the universe. As you probably know, there's a lot of stuff in the universe. All that stuff has mass, and if there's enough mass, so the theories say, the gravitational attraction of all that mass will slow the expansion of the universe and eventually cause the entire universe to collapse back in on itself, possibly resulting in new Big Bang and a new universe.

However, if there isn't enough mass, the universe could continue expanding forever and ever and ever, resulting in a cold, dark universe, sometimes referred to as the "heat death" of the universe, the seemingly inevitable result of ever-increasing entropy.

One of the critical numbers for figuring out which of these two awaits the universe is something called the Hubble constant, a proportionality constant initially related to how fast almost all the galaxies in the universe are moving away from us (and each other). It's also believed to be linked to the density of the universe, and thus to its ultimate fate. Unfortunately, no one knows what the actual value of the constant is. If it's too large, the universe will continue expanding forever; too low and it will recollapse. Oh, there are plenty of guesses, but nothing is known for certain, so no one really knows what will happen to the universe.

That being said, I feel obligated to point out that with recent observations, it's believed that not only is the universe not slowing down, but it's actually somehow speeding up. While the exact cause is unknown, whether it be a fundamental aspect of space or some sort of anti-gravitational force, this "dark energy" is almost certainly leading the universe toward that heat death version of its future.

Then again, whatever happens (probably) won't happen for another million trillion years or so, so we don't really have to worry about it right now.
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