Mudabbar Ahmad Zafri, Student, Jamia Ahmadiyya UK
Philosophers and poets alike have pondered the age-old question: “Will the universe meet its end in fire or ice?” There have been many theories that try to answer this fundamental question. Many discoveries have been made that unravel the secrets of the cosmos and many questions remain unanswered, casting a lingering sense of mystery. In this article, I will delve deep into the many theories that have been presented and determine which one correlates most with the Holy Quran.
To understand the reason for many different theories regarding the end of the universe, there is one fundamental principle that has to be understood. This is the idea of dark energy. When talking about dark energy, we enter uncharted territory. Scientists are quite certain that this exists, as we can witness it acting on the universe. They use the term dark energy to explain why the universe is expanding. Scientists believe it has properties that oppose the effect of gravity and cause matter to separate. This idea was first presented by Einstein, who called it a cosmological constant in his theory of gravity. However, no one knows what actually causes the expansion, but the solution has been named dark energy. This dark energy is the most abundant substance in the universe. Dark energy makes up about 68% of the universe, 27% is dark matter and only about 5% makes up normal matter which we can visibly see and interact with. (“Dark Energy, Dark Matter”, science.nasa.gov) This new dynamical energy fluid determines the demise of the universe. It all depends on whether this energy remains constant or if it changes. The death of the universe lies in the hands of a battle between dark energy, which opposes gravity and matter, which allows for gravity to act.
‘The Big Freeze’ or ‘The Heat Death’
One scenario for the end of the universe is called ‘The Big Freeze’ or ‘The Heat Death’. In this scenario, the strength of dark energy will remain constant. This means that over time, all the matter will be separated from one another. This will lead to more empty space, which in turn leads to more dark energy being present and so matter will be pushed apart even more. This leads to a feedback loop that will cause the universe to expand at an exponential rate. However, small clusters of galaxies that are close will remain together as gravity wins the battle against dark energy as the galaxies are already close together. However, all other galaxies will be pushed away and in 100 billion years, all other galaxies will become invisible. In this scenario, the universe will slowly come to an end as, in another 100 trillion years, all stars will have died out and all gas that is used to create new stars will have been used up. Then, in quadrillions of years, all white dwarfs and neutron stars, which are corpses of stars that have run out of energy and gone supernova, will slowly lose their faint glow and the universe will become truly dark, left with nothing except the remains of planets and celestial bodies that were once full of activity and black holes. Then, in sextillion years, all stars and planets will leave their galaxies, truly become alone and dissolve into smaller bits of matter. However, the universe is still not truly dead, as black holes are still striving. Nevertheless, even black holes meet their end. Due to Hawking radiation, black holes lose mass, which leads to their being evaporated and as the last one evaporates, the universe is bathed in light one last time. This process takes over a googol years. The universe will continue expanding at an ever-increasing rate and all matter will be separated into single particles that will be infinitely far away from another single particle. This will take almost an infinitely long time. This will be the true death of the universe in this scenario, as after this, there will be no change in the universe. Therefore, it is called the ‘Big Freeze’ as everything in the universe will become cold and void of any heat or energy in an infinitely expanding universe. It is also called the ‘Heat Death’ as all thermodynamic processes in the universe will gradually come to a halt. This theory is most widely accepted by scientists as, based on what has been detected, dark energy has remained constant and is likely to remain constant.
‘The Big Rip’
In the next scenario, dark energy becomes stronger and starts having a more drastic effect on space. This scenario is called ‘The Big Rip’. It is called this because dark energy will literally rip all matter apart. Over time, dark energy is becoming stronger, which overcomes the pull of gravity. The effects will start by separating galaxies from their local clusters. Then stars in the galaxy will be pushed away from one another and for those living in the solar system, all stars will become smaller and then over time, the night sky will be filled with nothing but darkness. Then, a few million years after the night sky becomes dark, the dark energy causes the space between that star and the planetary system to increase and the planets will become colder and freeze. All life that may exist on these planets will cease to exist as they freeze to death. A few months after this, space between solid objects would be created, causing every solid structure, from stars to steroids, to be ripped apart. Yet dark energy does not stop until everything is destroyed. Half an hour after the destruction of solid matter, it creates space between the nuclei of atoms and electrons, destroying all matter. The last celestial bodies left are black holes, which are a septillion times smaller than atoms and explode with the power of a trillion supernovae within one trillionth of an octillionth of a second. The final event is the obliteration of space-time and reality itself, the big rip of the universe. The universe will cease to exist and there is no meaning to space or time, so the universe will end in chaos almost instantaneously.
‘The Big Crunch’
The final major theory is ‘The Big Crunch’. This is when the dark energy decreases in strength and gravity overcomes the push of the dark energy and pulls everything that exists towards each other. This will ultimately lead to the universe collapsing in on itself. It will start with all galaxies becoming closer and closer. Due to galaxies being mostly empty space, it will be like the merging of two clouds and will not be as destructive as one may assume. The most damaging problem with this is that all the radiation from the Big Bang and supernovae will become concentrated in a smaller and smaller area as the universe itself becomes smaller and smaller. This leads to a vacuum of space and all the planets and stars becoming extremely hot. It will reach a state where it was just after the Big Bang. All the matter in the universe will merge into a single ball of hot plasma. At this point, there is a potential for two outcomes; either the matter will condense into a point of singularity with infinite density and zero size, or the universe will bounce back and start expanding again. A new universe will be born, and so new creations will occur.
The Big Crunch theory is most in line with what was revealed in the Quran. In the Quran, it states:
يَوۡمَ نَطۡوِي السَّمَآءَ کَطَيِّ السِّجِلِّ لِلۡکُتُبِ ؕ کَمَا بَدَاۡنَاۤ اَوَّلَ خَلۡقٍ نُّعِيۡدُہٗ ؕ وَعۡدًا عَلَيۡنَا ؕ اِنَّا کُنَّا فٰعِلِيۡنَ
“Remember the day when We shall roll up the heavens like the rolling up of written scrolls by a scribe. As We began the first creation, so shall We repeat it — a promise binding upon Us; We shall certainly perform it.” (Surah al-Anbiya’, Ch.21:V.105)
In this verse, we can clearly see the end of the universe will be due to gravity pulling all matter into a point of singularity. This is because it states, “We shall roll up the heavens like the rolling up of written scrolls by a scribe”. This is a similar visualisation of a black hole, as when matter falls into a black hole, it orbits around the black hole just before falling in and it looks like a scroll from the side. Furthermore, this may imply that the universe will return to a point of singularity, as in a black hole, all matter is pulled towards a point of singularity that has almost infinite density. This verse also alludes to the ‘bounce back’ of the universe, as it states, ‘As We began the first creation, so shall We repeat it’. This may mean that the universe will be brought back and repeated just as the first creation was made. Therefore, there may be another universe after the death of this universe?