Posted on May.01.2007 @ 08:44AM EDT by stephen
Along with matter, life requires energy. Until the late 1990s, scientists assumed the universe would follow one of three courses. It could continue to expand forever at perhaps a slightly decreasing rate. Or, it might reach a point of eternal balance and sit eternally between expansion and collapse. Or, it might stop expanding and begin folding back in on itself, heading toward a cataclysmic event called the Big Crunch. In all of these scenarios, protons, neutrons, and other particles will probably decay slowly into radiation, meaning the universe eventually should contain more radiant energy than matter.
Recently researchers discovered that galaxies are racing apart from one another at ever-increasing speeds, and at some extremely distant time, no star system will be within sight of any other. Scientists infer that a mysterious and so-far-undetected force called dark energy is propelling the acceleration.
It turns out that dark energy presents implications for the amount of radiant energy available to sustain life. Scientists conclude that beginning about 100 billion years from now, radiation will disappear from the universe faster than it can be produced by matter decay, leaving a larger and larger proportion of matter.
The acceleration is the key. Hundreds of billions of years from now, dark energy will push the universe beyond the speed of light, thereby stretching out energy waves to the point of insignificance. All heat, light, and radio waves will effectively stop.