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Universe sliding gently into old age and will eventually die, researchers say

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The Universe is sliding gently into old age and will meet with a slow death, researchers have suggested based on their study of over 200,000 galaxies – specifically their energy output.

Based on a precise and comprehensive assessment of energy output of hundreds of thousands of galaxies, researchers have revealed that the energy output in a section of the Universe today is only about half what it was two billion years ago. Researchers added that this decline or fading of the energy levels is occurring across all wavelengths from the ultraviolet to the far infrared – a proof that Universe is slowly dying.

“We used as many space and ground-based telescopes as we could get our hands on to measure the energy output of over 200 000 galaxies across as broad a wavelength range as possible,” says Simon Driver (ICRAR, The University of Western Australia), who heads the large Galaxy And Mass Assembly (GAMA) project team. GAMA is the largest multi-wavelength survey ever put together, involved many of the world’s most powerful telescopes.

While presenting their findings at the IAU XXIX General Assembly in Honolulu, Hawaii, researchers also released the survey data that includes measurements of the energy output of each galaxy at 21 wavelengths, from the ultraviolet to the far infrared. This, they say, will enable other scientists to better understand how different types of galaxies form.

This composite picture shows how a typical galaxy appears at  different wavelengths in the GAMA survey. This huge project has measured  the energy output of more than 200 000 galaxies and represents the most  comprehensive assessment of the energy output of the nearby Universe.  The results confirm that the energy produced in a section of the  Universe today is only about half what it was two billion years ago and  find that this fading is occurring across all wavelengths from the  ultraviolet to the far infrared.

This composite picture shows how a typical galaxy appears at different wavelengths in the GAMA survey. This huge project has measured the energy output of more than 200 000 galaxies and represents the most comprehensive assessment of the energy output of the nearby Universe. The results confirm that the energy produced in a section of the Universe today is only about half what it was two billion years ago and find that this fading is occurring across all wavelengths from the ultraviolet to the far infrared.

All the energy in the Universe was created in the Big Bang, with some portion locked up as mass. Stars shine by converting mass into energy, as described by Einstein’s famous equation E=mc2. The GAMA study sets out to map and model all of the energy generated within a large volume of space today and at different times in the past.

“While most of the energy sloshing around in the Universe arose in the aftermath of the Big Bang, additional energy is constantly being generated by stars as they fuse elements like hydrogen and helium together,”” Simon Driver says. “This new energy is either absorbed by dust as it travels through the host galaxy, or escapes into intergalactic space and travels until it hits something, such as another star, a planet, or, very occasionally, a telescope mirror.”

The fact that the Universe is slowly fading has been known since the late 1990s, but this work shows that it is happening across all wavelengths from the ultraviolet to the infrared, representing the most comprehensive assessment of the energy output of the nearby Universe.

“The Universe will decline from here on in, sliding gently into old age. The Universe has basically sat down on the sofa, pulled up a blanket and is about to nod off for an eternal doze,” concludes Simon Driver.

The team of researchers hope to expand the work to map energy production over the entire history of the Universe, using a swathe of new facilities, including the world’s largest radio telescope, the Square Kilometre Array, which is due to be built in Australia and South Africa over the next decade.

Fly through of the GAMA Galaxy Survey from ICRAR on Vimeo.