Dark energy: The apocalyptic wild card of the universe

Dr. Katie Mack explains what dark energy is and two ways it could one day destroy the universe.

  • The universe is expanding faster and faster. Whether this acceleration will end in a Big Rip or will reverse and contract into a Big Crunch is not yet understood, and neither is the invisible force causing that expansion: dark energy.
  • Physicist Dr. Katie Mack explains the difference between dark matter, dark energy, and phantom dark energy, and shares what scientists think the mysterious force is, its effect on space, and how, billions of years from now, it could cause peak cosmic destruction.
  • The Big Rip seems more probable than a Big Crunch at this point in time, but scientists still have much to learn before they can determine the ultimate fate of the universe. "If we figure out what [dark energy is] doing, if we figure out what it's made of, how it's going to change in the future, then we will have a much better idea for how the universe will end," says Mack.
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How ‘heat death’ will destroy the universe

The expansion of the universe is speeding up—contrary to what many physicists expected. A "heat death" is coming, but it's not what you think.

  • The expansion of the universe is accelerating as the force of dark energy wins out over the pull of all the universe's collective gravity.
  • As every object in space moves farther and farther away from all other objects in space, the universe will reach a state of maximum entropy, and 'heat death' will ensue. As astrophysicist Dr. Katie Mack points out, heat death is not actually a hot phenomenon—it's also known as the "Big Freeze."
  • Around 100 billion years from now, the universe will have expanded so much that distant galaxies won't be visible from Earth, even with high-powered telescopes. Stars will disappear in a trillion years and new stars will no longer form. The "good" news is that humans probably won't be around to witness the machine as it breaks down and dies.
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Interventions in school years can prevent "deaths of despair"

While most of these deaths are driven by external factors, interventions can still help prevent them.

Credit: Daniel Reche from Pexels
  • A decades-long study suggests childhood interventions are effective against deaths of despair.
  • The students who had interventions went on to drink less, engage in less risky behavior, and reported less self-harm.
  • The findings suggest that similar programs have the potential to save countless lives.
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Is there life after death?

Is death the final frontier? We ask scientists, philosophers, and spiritual leaders about life after death.

  • Death is inevitable for all known living things. However on the question of what, if anything, comes after life, the most honest answer is that no one knows.
  • So far, there is no scientific evidence to prove or disprove what happens after we die. In this video, astronomer Michelle Thaller, neuroscientist and philosopher Sam Harris, science educator Bill Nye, and others consider what an afterlife would look like, what the biblical concepts of 'eternal life' and 'hell' really mean, why so many people around the world choose to believe that death is not the end, and whether or not that belief is ultimately detrimental or beneficial to one's life.
  • Life after death is also not relegated to discussions of religion. "Digital and genetic immortality are within reach," says theoretical physicist Michio Kaku. Kaku shares how, in the future, we may be able to physically talk to the dead thanks to hologram technology and the digitization of our online lives, memories, and connectome.
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What the Greek classics tell us about grief and the importance of mourning the dead

The rites we give to the dead help us understand what it takes to go on living.

Photo by Stavrialena Gontzou on Unsplash

As the coronavirus pandemic hit New York in March, the death toll quickly went up with few chances for families and communities to perform traditional rites for their loved ones.

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