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C S Davis
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The End of Star Formation is Near

By C. S. Davis
Nov 17, 2012

We have all seen headlines about the possibility of a giant asteroid colliding with the Earth, ending life on our tiny planet. Or you have no doubt heard in astronomy class how our life giving sun will one day swell to engulf the Earth as it enters the red giant phase of its life cycle, sometime in the next few billion years. As frightening as it is to consider the end of the Earth, a more terrifying end is coming, the end of the universe! New research shows that this is coming sooner than we might have thought.

End of star formationShouldn't the universe last forever?

We know from big bang cosmology that the universe had a beginning, 13.7 billion years ago. We know from the second law of thermodynamics that total energy must always proceed to a less useful state. This leads to the idea of a "heat death". That is, when all the universe's energy is exhausted, there will be no useful energy left to do work or support life.

Energy is stored in particles, such as atoms, light, and gravitational separation, among other things. Hydrogen is particularly important, since it is the power source for all main sequence stars that provide light and heat for billions of years. As of now stars have already consumed 2% of the universe's initial store of hydrogen. Some hydrogen will not be available for stars, since it is disbursed within the vast voids between galaxy clusters, becoming ever more dispersed as the universe expands.

New research from a team out of Netherlands' University of Leiden
have shown that star formation is in dramatic decline. It has long been known that star formation was greater in the past. This new study now quantifies this fact and charts star formation in the past and the future. The data comes from the High-redshift Emission Line Survey, examining star formation in galaxies near by and up to 11 billion light years away. The result is a smooth curve charting star formation throughout the history of the universe and the projection of this curve into the future. The startling result is that 95% of all stars that will ever form have formed already. That means that only 5% more stars will form in the life of the universe.

Now we have no immediate cause for alarm, our sun will last at least another billion years. The remaining stars are forming at a decreasing rate. If we use their formula and predict when star formation will be practically negligible (say 1 star per trillion years per magaparsec) then we are looking at star formation essentially ended when the universe is 87 billion years old. (About 73 billion years from now.) At this time the universe would still contain small long lived dwarf stars. These stars will slowly consume their fuel, taking up to a trillion years to use it up. So after about 1.07 trillion years, the universe will grow dark and cold, and be incapable of supporting life or any other energy consuming process.

What does the the Bible say about the end of the universe?

How does this relate to God? The end of the world and of the universe are predicted in the Bible. In many passages of the Bible it speaks of the universe growing old, wearing out, and being stretched out.  Here are a few examples:

"Of old you laid the foundations of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands. They will perish, but you will remain; they will wear out like a garment. You will change them like a robe, and they will pass away, but you are the same, and your years have no end." Psalm 102:25-27 (ESV)

"and have forgotten the Lord, your Maker, who stretched out the heavens and laid the foundations of the earth, ..." Isaiah 51:13 (ESV)

"Bless the Lord, O my soul! O Lord my God, you are very great! You are clothed with splendor and majesty, covering yourself with light as with a garment, stretching out the heavens like a tent." Psalm 104:2 (ESV)

Not only does the Bible predict that the universe will end, but it also predicts that it will be stretched out and that it was stretched out as it was created. This aligns harmoniously with big bang cosmology, the discovery of dark energy, and now with discoveries of the universe aging and on course for a certain end.

See the Rare Universe Creation Timeline, for more detail on how well the creation history of the Bible matches to scientific discovery.

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posted Nov 17, 2012
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