The universe may be doomed to "Bang" and contract, ad infinitum.
Researchers suggest the universe may never actually end, but instead lead to future Big Bangs, much like the one believed to have brought the whole mess into being in the first place.
As detailed in a yet-to-be-peer-reviewed paper, first spotted by LiveScience's Paul Sutter, two theoretical physicists at the University of Portsmouth suggest that dark energy, the mysterious stuff suspected to be behind the accelerating expansion of the universe, may simply switch on and off, a process that could eventually lead to the next Big Bang.
There's a lot surrounding our theory of how the universe began that is still not fully understood, including a "singularity" following the Big Bang, which suggests a point of "infinite density where the math breaks down," as Sutter explains, as well as a period of "inflation," a rapid expansion of the universe during its earliest stages.
The authors of the new paper suggest that dark energy may have always been a part of this push-and-pull dynamic, and that the Big Bang was simply one in an infinite line of other Bangs, a theory known as the "Big Bounce" — which effectively means a singularity never had to happen in the first place.
In other words, dark energy could lead to a "Big Crunch," causing the universe to contract and eventually "Bang" again, rinse and repeat.
Making Up Numbers
But the dark energy model comes with some drawbacks. As the researchers admit in their paper, they had to insert an artificial value to explain the current rate of the universe's expansion, as predicted by quantum mechanics.
However, that doesn't mean the research is completely useless.
"Nonetheless, our qualitative analysis serves as a basis for the construction of more realistic models with realistic quantitative behavior," the paper reads.
In short, we still don't know the ultimate fate of our universe, but we might be getting closer to an answer.
READ MORE: Dark energy could lead to a second (and third, and fourth) Big Bang, new research suggests [LiveScience]
More on the Big Bang: Scientists Say Stuff Might Have Been Happening Before the Big Bang