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Math Space Science

Did Harvard Scientists Predict The End of the Universe? (gizmodo.com) 155

The universe will end with a bang -- and not a whimper -- reports The New York Post, citing a new study by Harvard Researchers predicting exactly when (and how) the universe will end. But Gizmodo's science writer takes issue with the media coverage: That paper predicts that the universe's lifetime would be between 10**88 and 10**241 years, but probably probably around 10**139 years. "I think people don't have a sense as to how big these numbers are," study author and physicist Matthew Schwartz from Harvard told Gizmodo. "It's such an enormous out of time. But they think 10**139 years is 139."

The universe is around 10 billion, or 10**10 years old. 10**139 is a completely unfathomable number of years... It's more than the amount of time it would take to count every atom in the universe, if you had to wait from the Big Bang until now in between counting each atom. That number of years eludes any rational attempt to understand it (Which is probably why it sounds so close -- our heads just short circuit and say, threat!!!). It is forever.

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Did Harvard Scientists Predict The End of the Universe?

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  • I assume that handle is supposed to be ironic?
  • The end of the universe may occur sooner if proton decay exists.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Six years if those guys in China plow ahead with their table top machine. As reported here no less!

      At least when smart-civs see where the bubble is expanding from, they might have a fair idea who's broadcasts match the stupidity.

    • Re:Well, it depends (Score:4, Informative)

      by Aristos Mazer ( 181252 ) on Saturday April 07, 2018 @09:21PM (#56399697)
      > if proton decay exists.

      You may appreciate this short story based on answering that question. It just won Scientific American Magazine's writing competition for stories based on quantum mechanics.
      http://shorts2017.quantumlah.o... [quantumlah.org]
    • by HiThere ( 15173 )

      If it's based on the article I'm thinking of, it's based on the idea that the Higgs boson is at a meta-stable position, and could fall off...and that if one did anywhere in the universe a bubble of reconfiguration with a more stable Higgs would expand at the speed of light (or possibly faster). This can't currently be shown to be wrong, but seems dubious. OTOH, the probability of a Higgs changing state was calculated to be extremely small...which is why the estimated long time...but, of course, it could h

    • No, it does not depend. Betteridge's law of headlines holds strong in this case the answer is simply "no they have not". The paper uses our current understanding of the Standard Model to calculate the lifetime of the vacuum. However, we know with complete certainty that the Standard Model is wrong.

      For a start there is no explanation of Dark Matter and Dark Energy which make up 95% of the universe and so are likely to have a very big impact on the vacuum state. Then there is a fine-tuning problem for the
  • "Exactly"? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by PacoSuarez ( 530275 ) on Saturday April 07, 2018 @06:49PM (#56399229)
    A range of 153 orders of magnitude isn't my idea of "exactly". The difference between the largest distances (the size of the observable universe) and the smallest distances (Planck's length) is only 62 orders of magnitude.
  • by wonkey_monkey ( 2592601 ) on Saturday April 07, 2018 @06:50PM (#56399237) Homepage

    That paper predicts that the universe's lifetime would be between 10**88 and 10**241 years, but probably probably around 10**139 years.

    Since when is "**" the way to write exponentiation on shitty systems that can't even handle an innocuous tag like <sup>, such as Slashdot?

    Use a ^ like normal people. Or just let use <sup>. Jeez. It's bad enough that you still haven't got unicode, but <sup>? C'mon.

    And yes, I know some programming languages use "**". This isn't a programming language, this is supposed to be a news site.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      yes. if only there were an already acceptable scientific notation that could represent orders of magnitude in base 10 using an arbitrary letter, e.g. an ‘e’.

    • by jpatters ( 883 )

      I briefly considered the possibility that they intended to use Knuth up arrow notation with stars instead of arrows (or carrots) but then within about a half a second realized that 10^^10 (or 10^10^10^10^10^10^10^10^10^10) is wayyyyy more than 10 billion. I've spent too much time pondering G_64 to consider 10^139 to be that unfathomably large. I mean, it is more than a googol, but less than a googolplex, so it can't be that bad.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Use a ^ like normal people.

      10 xor 139 years ? We-re doomed.

    • Still better than the NY Post article which translated it to "10Ã--139 years."
      Then again, considering how stupid we act as a race, ending it all and starting over in 1400 years might not be the worst idea, so maybe they're on to something.

      • Still better than the NY Post article which translated it to "10Ã--139 years."

        Slashdot's lack of unicode support strikes again. I'm guessing they used ×

    • I'm mostly glad that they don't allow unicode:

      Emojis are really gay, and so was that fucking movie. The last thing I want is people putting eggplants, hearts, kisses, and fucking pandas all over their posts. If they add unicode, drinkypoo will be all over that, and it will be damn annoying.

      • by jpatters ( 883 )

        Actually, emoji might seem frivolous, but I see it as the very beginning of the English language transforming to include pictographs, which is quite interesting. In 100 to 1000 years the language will be quite unrecognizable, I think.

        Anyway, obXKCD: https://xkcd.com/1709/ [xkcd.com]

    • they're not supporting Unicode just to spite us.
    • by tsa ( 15680 )

      Indeed. I even thought for a while that it must be Slashdot's problem with showing ordinary characters that made them decide to use ** instead of ^, but no...

      Pathetic.

    • The NY Post article wrote the universe's end "could occur 10x139 years from now" (sic, though where the "x" is supposedly a \times, which still doesn't make sense). At least Slashdot corrected that stupidity.

    • Britain's 'Daily Mail' newspaper used 'x'. And nobody was really surprised how soon Armageddon seemed. Well, at least they reported it.
      • If a science story in the Daily Mail isn't about how something either a) cures cancer or b) causes cancer, then most Daily Mail readers won't read it.

  • "... between 10**88 and 10**241 years..."

    I hope it's okay with you if I don't worry about this now.
    • "... between 10**88 and 10**241 years..."

      I hope it's okay with you if I don't worry about this now.

      How long have we known about the inferred effects of Dark Energy and Dark Matter . . . ? Less that 10**2 years . . . ?

      I think it is a wee bit too early in our relationship to be making any long term commitments to the universe.

      Maybe Dark Matter and Dark Energy will suddenly start becoming more Dark. That would majorly foobar these physicists' predictions.

      Maybe the upcoming Webb space telescope will surprisingly spot evidence of the existence of Clear Energy and Clear Matter . . . which we won't be able

    • There is as yet insufficient data for a meaningful answer.

  • Looks like the universe may last long enough for Twinkies to go bad.
  • The first (Score:4, Funny)

    by JustOK ( 667959 ) on Saturday April 07, 2018 @07:14PM (#56399313) Journal
    The first 10**42 years were the worst.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    Okay, what the heck does "**" mean?

    Do you mean 10^88?

    10 billion = 10e9 or 1e10.

  • Prove it! (Score:4, Interesting)

    by mschaffer ( 97223 ) on Saturday April 07, 2018 @07:35PM (#56399385)

    They can predict all they want. They simply cannot prove it.

    • in only 10**192 years. I can wait.
    • there is nigh such thing as proof in astronomy or physic or heck even biology or chemistry.
      • Ok. Fair enough. What about an error bar based on observations of similar universes exposed to similar conditions?
        I'm sure a double-blind study would be out of the question. :-)
        It's crappy conjecture, loosely based on "science" found in the Sun (the tabloid, not the bright object we observe in the sky).

    • No theory in science is ever "proven", only that experiment or observation is consistent with a theory, or not, with or without adjustment in theory. Events can be generally proven to have taken place, but any deeper meaning behind them is open to interpretation. For instance, while one can prove that our universe had a beginning, one cannot prove that it is "real", or that creating it wasn't a bad idea.
    • A Tralfamadorian test pilot presses a starter button, and the whole Universe disappears. So it goes.

  • Don’t wait until 10^139-1 year, invest in my bubble universe survival kit today!!! It’s an investment that will survive the end of the universe.

  • Nice Analogy (Score:5, Informative)

    by sonicmerlin ( 1505111 ) on Saturday April 07, 2018 @07:45PM (#56399415)

    "It's more than the amount of time it would take to count every atom in the universe, if you had to wait from the Big Bang until now in between counting each atom"

    That... is actually a really great way to communicate just how long that span of time is. That totally blew my mind.

    • It's actually not true since the number of atoms in the visible universe is highly variable. You would have to wait from the "start" to now, then make an estimate of the visible universe mass in atoms (itself in flux because of fusion/fission) then just count every 14 billion years or so. If you had a trillion computers, each playing a new game of go (no repeats allowed) each game lasting one nanosecond, there wouldn't be enough time in the universe to play them all even using the upper estimate of lifeti
    • It's more than , so what? It would have been more interesting to find something that this number is less than.

  • ...make that reservation at Milliways.

  • Good thing we are still in the first 6,000 years so thing to sweat. Unless another flood hits.

  • So we have a nice theoretical paper predicting the date of the End of Universe (with no much accuracy, btw), and the summary only focuses on how large 10^139 is.

    So sad about Slashdot...

  • Doesn't that make everything we do sound just so... pointless?
  • Anything less than infinite years is infinitely far away from being forever. Yes, 10^139 is a big number but it is less than one millionth of one millionth of one millionth of infinity.
  • In 100 years, there will be between 5 and 500 billion people on earth.
    Next year, there will be between 1 and 500 hurricanes on earth.

    Make your prediction boundaries wide enough, and you're sure to get it right!

    • In 100 years, there will be between 5 and 500 billion people on earth.

      Well, I'm not so sure you are correct on the lower limit there. I suspect we are in a human population bubble.

  • It means that the universe will go out in an instant. Like a pop of a balloon. Not necessarily the other ways the thought of. Read the whole article.
  • "It's such an enormous out of time. But they think 10**139 years is 139."

    They probably think that because no one is using syntax a normal person can understand. Normal people are taught that 10^139 is the right way to express this value.

    People who can program understand 10**139 is the same thing.

    No one knows that (as TFA says) 10x139 is the same as 10^139 because it isn't. 10x139 is 1390.

    • Normal people are taught that 10^139 is the right way to express this value.

      No, they are taught that 10E139 is the right way to express this value.

  • That number of years eludes any rational attempt to understand it [...]. It is forever.

    Not to a buddhist. After all, remember the saying:

    "All journeys -- no matter how long -- start with the first step and end with the last step."

    In short: Forever is a big word to toss around by small minds. What's so bad about just saying: "Pretty frickin' long"? :-)

    • What's so bad about just saying: "Pretty frickin' long"? :-)

      What's so bad about it is that frickin' is not a real word and smileys are bad.

      In fact, smileys are so bad that they will never amount to anything, will never get any official support in character sets and companies such as Apple and Microsoft will never support them either.

      Posted from 1994.

  • I'll let ya know.

    Ferret
  • It's more than the amount of time it would take to count every atom in the universe, if you had to wait from the Big Bang until now in between counting each atom.

    That's a big Twinkie.

  • That paper predicts that the universe's lifetime would be between 10**88 and 10**241 years.

    I just entered "10**88" on my calculator and it said "880".

    Fuck global warming, everyone is going to die anyway!

  • I wonder if -- eons from now -- science will be so much more advanced that they'll look back at this prediction the way we look back at the Mayans' 2012 prediction. Maybe they'll make a scary thriller movie about the end of the universe, titled simply "10**139".
  • For us humans, though, the end may come much sooner - if we continue to allow ourselves to be subjected to "leaders" like Trump and Kim Jong Un.

    There is also a considerable number of fellow humans walking around with their "heads in the sand", which anyone knows is dangerous in itself.
  • "I think people don't have a sense as to how big these numbers are," study author and physicist Matthew Schwartz from Harvard told Gizmodo.

    I think Matthew Schwartz from Harvard thinks "people," are really stupid, and while SOME people are demonstrably VERY stupid, I suspect most are not. Even if people don't know that 10**39 means the same thing as "ten raised to the 139th power,) that's not ignorance about the enormity of a number, but rather not being familiar with a particular form of notation. Of course this is an "inconceivably large" number, in that we don't DEAL, on a daily basis, or hardly ever, really, with ANYTHING like numbers of

  • During LIGO's fifth Science Run in November 2005, sensitivity reached the primary design specification of a detectable strain of one part in 1021 over a 100 Hz bandwidth.

    Sleepy engineer: "Hmm, that sure looks like a typo. Any normal 10-bit ADC would have a natural range of 1024 distinct values. Weird, the engineering magic of LIGO must be somewhere else."

    My joke actually praises the sleepy engineer: if reading that text correctly required consciously overriding deeply engrained subconscious intuitions about

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