In a special issue(1) of Astronomy magazine, Steve Nadis ponders the long-term fate of not only our galaxy, but of the universe itself, based on recent data. By projecting from the currently accepted model that the universe is constantly expanding, some astrophysicists are concluding that the mysterious dark matter that now composes 70% of the universe, will eventually encompass 97% of the total, "rendering matter insignificant in the grand scheme of things," he writes.
The sun will grow so large in about a billion years that life on Earth "will no longer be an option," Nadis notes. Yet, if humanity does manage to migrate to other planets, here is the long (as in very long) range forecast:
- In around 14 billion years, the Milky Way will merge with Andromeda and other nearby star systems. Distant galaxies will begin to recede from view.
- In 100 billion years, our mega-galaxy will be all that can be seen from here, with only darkness beyond it.
- 100 trillion years down the road, most stars will have burned out and new ones will only form through the rare collision of two brown dwarfs.
- At around 10100 years (that's 10 with a whole lot of zeros after it) the last remaining objects in the universe, black holes, will begin to evaporate, leaving a mere whiff of stray particles.
Pictured: The "Egg Nebula" taken by the Hubble Telescope