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The Universe is slowly dying

A giant survey involving many of the world’s most powerful telescopes has found that the Universe is slowly dying, with today’s galaxies only producing half as much energy as galaxies were two billion years ago.

The Galaxy and Mass Assembly (GAMA) project is an energy survey of over 200,000 galaxies. It includes measurements of the energy output of each galaxy at 21 wavelengths, from the ultraviolet to the far infrared. This dataset will help scientists to better understand how different types of galaxies form.

“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,” says Simon Driver of the International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research in Western Australia.

“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.”

However, we don’t need to panic just yet. The researchers calculate the oldest lowest mass stars, which burn through their fuel very slowly, should keep shining for about another 100 billion years.

“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.

Bill Condie

Bill Condie

Bill Condie is a science journalist based in Adelaide, Australia.

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