Based on currently observable data, scientists agree that the universe will end in one of three ways: The Big Freeze, the Big Rip or the Big Crunch. All scenarios depend on the behavior of dark energy, that mysterious force which is counteracting the pull of gravity, causing the universe to expand rather than contract. If dark energy remains stable, galaxies will spread further and further apart. If dark energy increases in intensity, the universe will expand at an ever inreasing rate, destroying entire galaxies.
What’s the Big Idea?
Thanks to its revolutionary implications, the discovery of dark energy was awarded the 2011 Nobel Prize in physics. Previously, scientists believed that the force of gravity—the attraction of matter to other matter relative to mass—would cause the universe to contract, bringing all matter back to where it began “before” the big bang. That scenario is the Big Crunch. Within the next decade, scientists expect to be able to measure the rate of the universe’s expansion at distances far from our galaxy, shining light on the true nature of dark energy.