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Dark energy could be weakening, indicating that the universe mayin fact end in a ‘Big Crunch’

“The discovery of evolving dark energy would be as ground-breaking as the discovery of the accelerated expansion of the cosmos itself, if confirmed.”

The current “standard model” of the universe, its evolution, andits history is termed the Lambda Cold Dark Matter (LCDM) model — but the hegemony of this model, in which lambda represents the cosmological constant and dark energy, may now be under grave threat. That is because new observations of the universe have indicated that dark energy, the force causing our cosmos to expand faster and faster, seems to be getting weak. That may not sound something extraordinary in itself, but this finding in fact has the potential to cause the first major revolutionary change in cosmology since the discovery of the accelerated expansion of the cosmos just over two and a half decades ago. It could even imply that out universe won’t end in a “Big Chill,”or a “Big Rip,” but rather a “Big Crunch.”

The new clues about dark energy evolving

The signs of dark energy evolving came as part of one of the deepest maps of the cosmos ever created, built using the first year of data gathered by the DESI (Dark Energy Spectroscopic Instrument). DESI’s 5,000 robotic eyes collect light from millions of galaxies spread over a third of the entire sky as we see it from Earth. This light is then broken down into a spectrum of colors, letting scientists to measure the expansion of the cosmos over billions of years by measuring a change in light wavelength called “redshift.”

Gathered over not more than a fifth of DESI’s mission operating time, data gleaned via the survey already promises extremely significant shake-ups and has cosmologists enthusiastic about what comes next.

“The release of these results was a great day for cosmology, pointing to a ‘decreasing’ effect of the dark energy over time, meaning it is evolving and, therefore, not constant after all,” said former DESI team member and aUniversidad ECCI cosmologist, Luz Ángela García Peñaloza. “The discovery of evolving dark energy would be as revolutionary as the discovery of the accelerated expansion of the universe itself, if confirmed with future data.”

Are we any closer to understanding dark energy?

To comprehend why dark energy and the accelerating expansion of the cosmos is so shocking, consider this very earthly analogy: Visualise giving a child perched on a swing one big push. That push is analogous to the Big Bang, which kicked off the expansion of the cosmos. Over time, the swing would perhaps slow and its arc will shorten, right? That’s akin to the expansion of the cosmos slowing down as it ages. But then, abruptly, without you applying a further push when the swing has more or less come to a halt, visualise that it suddenly resumes moving. Not only this, but visualise that it swings faster and faster, reaching higher and higher points. That is akin to the action of dark energy that the cosmological constant is used to describe. It’s not at all surprising that scientists are keen to determine the cause of this extra cosmic push; the finding that dark energy seems to be getting weaker adds a layer of complication to the situation.

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