Scientists conclude that the universe may expand forever

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Correction — August 22, 2010
This article describes a study of dark energy, not of dark matter as mentioned in the first paragraph. At this time, dark energy is estimated to be three quarters of the mass of the universe, and contributes to accelerated expansion, while dark matter is estimated to contribute about one quarter of the universe's mass.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Galaxy cluster Abell 1689
Image: NASA/ESA.

A study of the amount of dark matter in the universe suggests that the universe itself may continue to expand indefinitely. Researchers say that the universe will likely then become a cold, dead cosmic wasteland.

The study was conducted by an international team of researchers led by Professor Eric Jullo at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California. The researchers used data from the Hubble Space Telescope showing the way that light was distorted, known as a gravitational lens, from a large galactic cluster known as Abell 1689 to estimate the amount of dark energy to be about three quarters of the universe.

Dark energy is a completely invisible force that is constantly acting upon the universe. Its existence is known only because of its effects on the expansion of the universe.

As the universe expands and cools, the temperature will approach absolute zero.

Jullo says that scientists can now say, for the first time, that the universe "will continue to accelerate and the universe will expand forever".