Astronomy

Perspectives on whether the Universe is Expanding



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EXPANSION AND DAMNATION (The Expansion of the Universe)

The common-sense wisdom of the working man states, "You're damned if you do, and you're damned if you don't." The same can be said for the expansion of the universe. If the expansion of the universe reverses into the theorized "Big Crunch," the very memory of humankind will be reduced to nothing. All that we are will have been in vain. The monuments on earth and the olive branches sent into deep space (i.e., the Pioneer spacecraft) will eventually return to one solid mass of dense matter. In this specific end, nothing will last forever, and no one will be around to mourn its loss.

If the expansion of the universe lasts forever, bits and pieces of who we are might survive into eternity. The problem: No one will be around to appreciate it. Why? In an expanding universe, the galaxies will drift farther and farther away. Eventually, all stars will stop shining. Some will be shells of what they once were; others will collapse upon themselves. As much as we know, life-bearing planets cannot support life without light. Eventually, after billions upon billions upon billions of years, the universe will be cold, lifeless, and dark. Sure, we might have really cool spacecraft with neat inscriptions floating around, but who will see them? Sure, someone's gold-plated vinyl record collection (grooves last forever...ask the Library of Congress) might one day be floating toward a black hole, but who will hear them?

What's the moral of this story? To be blunt, we're SCREWED. But let's all raise up a glass of wine and make a toast, not to the past (it's over), nor to the future (see above), but to the here and now...the center of the universe.

Okay, maybe here and now isn't the center of the universe, or the center of expansion. The center of expansion was the singularity of the Big Bang. But that was then. Now, the universe is the same in every direction in terms of length, width, and height. (I believe I'm paraphrasing-okay, butchering-the work of Hawking and others more credible than I, so please bear with me.) Beyond the locality of a few million light-years, what we should see will pretty much be the same-a trillion galaxies north, south, east, west, up, and down. In fact, space is curved, so in theory, the farther you look in one direction, the closer you are to seeing the back of your head. Then again, we have to take into account the speed of light which ruins the fun of my joke. Needless to say, it's impossible to find the center in three dimensions.

The universe is at least four dimensions, so we might want to locate the center of expansion there. As far as we're concerned, the axis perpendicular to x, y, and z (space) is time, which we'll call the t-axis. Time is the fourth dimension. We can find the center of the universe by locating the center of time. The beginning of time is the Big Bang. If the end of time is the Big Crunch, then just divide by two to find the center of time. And that, my friends, is the center of expansion.

If we are doomed to a forever-expanding universe, then the t-axis will not help us. In this case, we cannot add zero (Big Bang) with infinity (Cold Hell) and divide by two. We would get some other quantity of infinity. To find the center of expansion, we would have to consult the fifth dimension (either "The Twilight Zone" or the band who sang "Aquarius/Let The Sunshine In"...only kidding, folks). So far, only those of pure genius (and madness) can grasp it fully. Whether that includes myself (madness, not genius...not by a long shot) is for the doctors to determine.

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