Pointing telescopes into the heavens is not merely an arbitrary practice used to study our surroundings. It is much more than that. Not only does it give us the ability to study the very laws of physics that keep the Earth in rotation around the Sun, ultimately giving way to the development of multicellular life-forms, but it also serves as some sort of a time machine, allowing us to look back at  some of the very first celestial objects created after the dawn of time.

In addition to that, we are able to determine the rate at which the universe is expanding, see stars be born and die in equal proportions, detect changes in the atmosphere of distant exoplanets and so much more, making it somewhat difficult to determine which portions are the most important. ‘ However, it has been said that due to the accelerating  expansion of the universe, the very sky we’re observing today will look radically different from the one that’ll exist in a few billions or trillions of year from now.

Assuming the universe exists in a state similar to how it is now, without the big rip, big freeze, big bounce, big slurp or any other proposed scenarios taking place,   what will our descendants see when observing distant sources of light? Or rather, what will they not see? How will the universe change? We’ve compiled a series of infographics that touch base on the future of the universe: English VersionTimeline-of-the-Future-Part-2Timeline-of-the-Far-Future-Part-3 (1)

See the Highlights:

[toggle title=”1,000,000 YEARS – The Sun’s New Rival:”]

Betelgeuse, which is located approximately 640 light-years from Earth in the constellation Orion — is one of the biggest and brightest stars in our galactic neighborhood. It could swallow our Sun 20 times over, whilst emitting more than 100,000 times more light. If that doesn’t convey its sheer size, let me put it this way: If you were to replaced Betelgeuse with our Sun, Betelgeuse itself would extend all the way to Jupiter, engulfing Earth and all of the planets in the inner solar system!

Despite this, the star is nearing the end of its life-span. It’s estimated that Betelgeuse could go supernova anytime in the next million years. Don’t expect the explosion to be noticeable immediately though. It would take 640 years or traveling through the interstellar medium before the light made its way all the way to Earth. What that does mean? Betelgeuse (also known as Alpha Orionis) could have already exploded hundreds of years ago, and we would have no way of knowing.

When that light does arrive, the intensity of the supernova as seen here on Earth is the subject of debate, but some think that it will be capable of being seen during the daytime and outshining the moon at night .

[The above text is an excerpt from this article]

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[toggle title=”1.4 MILLION YEARS – TURBULENT TIMES:”]

Models uncovered in 2010 say the rogue star could seriously upset the icy comets in the Oort cloud, a theoretical region located on the fringe of our solar system. The star, tentatively known as Gliese 710, is an orange dwarf star currently located some 63.8 light-years from Earth in Serpens constellation. The star is relatively unremarkable, coming in with only 60% of the total mass of the Sun’s (or it has about 67% of the Sun’s radius), but newish simulations, undertaken by Vadim Bobylev (from the Pulkovo Astronomical Observatory in St Petersburg) believe it could have a remarkable impact on us. Whilst working on the Hipparcos Catalog (it aims to collect a myriad of data centering on an object’s speed, velocity and trajectory) they located over 100,000 stars, a whopping 156 of them need to be monitored very closely, as they might someday pose an imminent threat to mankind. It isn’t uncommon for stars to make an appearance on the outer end of a planetary system. It’s just in this case, we find that the solar system in question is ours. In fact, it’s estimated that once every 2 million years, a rogue star arrives in our galactic neighborhood (defined by an area extending about 1 parsec [31 trillion kilometers/19 trillion miles] or 3.26 light-years of the Sun). The last of which, Gliese 208, passed within four light years of us about half a million years ago. Skip to 1.4 million years in the future, there is an 86% chance that Gliese 710 will come within half a parsec of the sun, where millions of comets roam. If the dinosaurs were still around, I’m sure they wouldn’t approve.

[The above text is an excerpt from this article]

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[toggle title=”8 MILLION YEARS – MARS GETS RINGS:”]

How Mars might look with rings (Credit; Darkness84 on deviantART)
How Mars might look with rings (Credit; Darkness84 on deviantART)

Located approximately 5,800 miles (9,400 km) from the center of Mars, or about 3,700 miles (6,000 km) above the Martian surface, Phobos –  one of the two the natural satellites of Mars – orbits its parent planet from a distance shorter of that of any other known moon in our solar system.

Because of this short distance from Mars, Phobos completes one full orbit around Mars before it can make one full rotation around its axis. If one could stand on the surface of the Red Planet and look up into the night sky, Phobos would zoom across the sky in just under 4 hours and 15 minutes.

The rather short orbital period of the small moon, paired with its close proximity from the planet, tidal interactions between Phobos and Mars has caused its orbital radius to decrease even further, which will eventually give way to one of two things.

Either Phobos will break apart and form an intricate set of rings that could rival the ones that famously belong to Saturn, or Phobos will reach Mars’Roche Limit: a region estimated to lie around 4350 miles (7,000 km) above the center of Mars (or 3,853 miles/6,200 km above the Martian surface) and it will crash into the surface of Mars, acting as a giant nuclear-bomb.

[The above text is an excerpt from this article]   [/toggle]

[toggle title=”4 BILLION YEARS – OUR SOLAR SYSTEM DIES:”]

The Sun as a Red-giant
The Sun as a Red-giant

You know the saying, right? “Everything that lives must die.” One day, everyone you know will be gone, then everyone they know will die too. Our solar system and the universe itself aren’t immune to such things, though they meet their destruction on a much longer time-scale. Thankfully, before  the Sun dies, the Earth will be gone —possibly swallowed up by the Sun as it transitions from a main-sequence star to a red-giant. Regardless of whether or not Earth survives the sun’s initial expansion, it will certainly be a fried hunk of rock that isn’t fit for human (or anything remotely similar) consumption. Long before those events occur, all of the water on the planet will evaporate, the rolling hills of green will wither away, the atmosphere will be lost permanently to space, taking away life, and with it, any remaining semblance of the features that make our planet what it is: home. If the surviving outer planets aren’t forced into wider orbits around the dying sun, they might be flung from our solar system entirely. After which, some of the icy moons might see a glimmer of spring for the first time, allowing a small window of time to pass when they thaw out and potentially become habitable. [/toggle]

[toggle title=”5 BILLION YEARS – MILKDROMEDA IS BORN:”]

Soon afterwards, the Andromeda galaxy will collide with our Milky Way, forming a large elliptical galaxy. Some have suggested we name it Milkdromeda(We really need to start working on a better name — time is running out after all!) Our solar system — now much smaller and far more obscure since the Sun is now a stellar core approximately the size of Earth — will likely be pushed out of its current orbit around the Milky Way’s center, into a much wider orbit. It can currently be found in the Orion spur of one of our galaxy’s spiral arms, situated some 25,000 light-years back from the central core. After the merger, it is expected to be pushed back  to about 100,000 light-years from the center of the galaxy. Speaking of the central region of the newly-formed Milkdromeda, it is going through a drastic phase  change of its own. The merger will inevitably result in the supermassive black holes from both galaxies combining as well, forming an ultra-massive black hole with the combined mass of billions of Suns.

How the collision will play out (Image Source)
How the collision will play out (Image Source)

Throughout the gradual process of this merger, which will take place over the course of hundreds of millions of years, it’s unlikely that any two stars or planets will collide. Yes, that seems strange, but remember that space is called space for a reason. The distance separating each individual star is incomprehensibly vast; even the regions that are densely packed —  like globular clusters and nebular clouds —  are very spacious. However , new life is imminent. Along with absorbing all of the stars, planets and black holes of Andromeda, the cache of the raw materials for star formation will combine, triggering the birth of hundreds of millions of new stars.  Of all of our uncertainty about the event itself (and how much it will impact both galaxies as a whole) is confounded by one thing — the utter beauty our night sky will hold. To paraphrase Carl Sagan; “We on earth marvel, and rightfully so, at the daily return of our single sun. But from a planet orbiting a star in a distant globular cluster, a still more glorious dawn awaits. Not a sunrise, but a galaxy rise. A morning filled with 400 billion suns, the rising of the Milky Way.”   [/toggle]

[toggle title=”TEN BILLION YEARS — THE DUST SETTLES”]

This is definitely a bit dramatized for effect, but you get the idea.
This is definitely a bit dramatized for effect, but you get the idea.

After the merger comes to a completion, the dust will finish settling, leaving behind scant evidence to suggest an epic merger took place at all, but by observing white-dwarfs and calculating their age (and their concentration of heavy metals), astronomers may be able to deduce the existence of an event that triggered furious star formation within the galaxy. Such an event could only be one thing; a galaxy merger. After an uncertain amount of years, new star formation will halt altogether in the newly-formed elliptical galaxy. Then, after the last remaining bits of material for star formation are gone, they will leave behind a galaxy devoid of gas and dust almost entirely. Some of the material will be recycled when the first generation of stars produced in Milkdromeda explode as brilliant supernovae blasts, but at this point, our galaxy’s best days are well and truly over. Moreover, some of the most famous far-off nebulae will be gone. Imagine a galaxy with no Orion nebula; no VY Canis Majoris.. and no Pillars of Creation (granted, the Pillars might already be gone). Yes, very sad times, but perhaps the galaxy will construct even more elaborate nebulae in the wake of all we’ve already lost to time. [/toggle]

[toggle title=”100 BILLION YEARS: THE LIGHTS START TO DIM”]

Click the image to see a larger version
Click the image to see a larger version

100 billion years from now, the ever accelerating expansion of the universe — most commonly called dark energy — will cause all but 1,000 members of the Virgo Supercluster — where our galaxy, along with other members of our local group, reside— to red-shift into oblivion, never to be seen again by astronomers in our galaxy or any near-by. The visibility of galaxies located on the horizon of the observable universe at this point can be likened to light that’s captured by the event horizon of a black hole. As an object approaches the “point of no return,” its image appears to freeze and fade away because you can’t see any of the light it emits from that point forward. It is much too far away and is travelling way too fast to ever arrive to our corner of the universe, no matter how much time will pass for the light to traverse spacetime. In a similar frame of mind, this period signals the regression of the universe.  Instead of being diverse, colorful and bright, as it is now, it devolves into the universe it once was long before Earth was even around; the cosmic dark ages. [/toggle]

[toggle title=”1 TRILLION YEARS – GOODBYE FOREVER, CMBR:”]

In a trillion years – evidence of the big bang in the form of the cosmic microwave background radiation, which was created a mere 379,000 years prior to the birth of the universe, will grow dim to the point of invisibility. From there, it will then be lost to astronomers forever, perhaps leading future generations of astronomers to believe the universe is static and unchanging. However,  future generations may eventually discover the process of nucleosynthesis (the fusion of heavy elements from lighter ones) in the core of red-dwarf stars, which are smaller, dimmer, cooler and much more common than stars like our Sun. They employ an internal process that allows them to burn for trillions of years. Due to a number of obstacles, one of which, is the dwindling supply of star formation materials, the production of stars will ultimately halt, leaving behind nothing but red-dwarf stars. There will be no more supernova blasts to use as standard candles, no more food to quench the insatiable appetite of black holes, no new planets and no more cosmic nebulae. The last is important because such nebular clouds are key to kick-starting the star formation process. (On this note, one paper has suggested that this process has begun already and more than 95% of the stars that will ever live have already been born.) Another contributing factor to this, is the perplexing existence of a little thing that is driving the universe apart, something we like to call “dark energy.” With all of the distant galaxies red-shifted out of view, how would the existence of this elusive force be known? This begs the question;

How will scientists know anything?

According to Avi Loeb (from the Harvard-Smithsoniana Center for Astrophysics), hypervelocity stars —or “true” shooting stars that only occur about once every 100,000 years —that are flung our of our galaxy at incredible speeds may be the answer to this particular cosmic quandary. These stars are usually the lone survivors of a binary or multiple star system that went awry. One of these stars can be ejected from its typical orbit after its partner is devoured by a black hole that has wandered too close to a galaxy’s center.

How Hypervelocity Stars Are Born (Credit: NASA, ESA, and A. Feild {STScI])
How Hypervelocity Stars Are Born (Credit: NASA, ESA, and A. Feild {STScI])

When this occurs, the momentum of the dead star is then transferred to the partner, allowing it to break free of the black hole’s gravitational hold, causing it to speed off on a trajectory that takes it outside of the galaxy all together — sometimes traveling at over one million miles per hour (or about 10 times faster than ordinary star movement). After the star escapes from our galaxy’s confines (some 1 trillion years in the future), it would continue to travel away from our galaxy into interstellar space, effectively becoming the most distant source of light from beyond  our galaxy’s borders. Any observer would be surprised to see the star accelerating more and more quickly as it makes its way into oblivion, until they witness it disappear over an “event horizon” where any information  can no longer be received because of the rapid expansion of space — a product of dark energy. Yes, it would take an extremely long amount of time to see this play out, but it’s not like the universe will be teeming with things that warrant close investigation. Besides hypervelocity stars, other sources of information may exist in the future, clues that can help unlock important information about the standard model of cosmology, and essentially, the creation of the universe itself. [/toggle]

100 TRILLION YEARS – THE UNIVERSE DIES:

 There are a number of hypotheses that predict how the universe will end, but the most promising one is called’the big chill.’ Under this scenario, dark energy continues driving the expansion of the universe, resulting in the temperatures dropping throughout the universe until it reaches absolute zero (or a point at which the universe can no longer be exploited to perform work). Similarly, if the expansion of the universe continues, planets, stars and galaxies are pulled so far apart that the stars would eventually lose access to raw material needed for star formation, thus the lights inevitably go out for good.

This is the point at which the universe would reach a maximum state of entropy.  Any stars that remain will continue to slowly burn away, until the last star is extinguished. Instead of fiery cradles, galaxies will become coffins filled with remnants of dead stars. It has been said in the very distant future, that intelligent civilizations will someday truly into the sky and think they are well and truly alone.  At that point, they probably are.                                                                                                [See the full article here]  

Now, let it sink in:

Image is of the Hubble Ultra Deep Field (Credit: NASA), while the text is courtesy of our friends at ScienceThat.com (Check them out on facebook by following this link)
Image is of the Hubble Ultra Deep Field (Credit: NASA), while the text is courtesy of our friends at ScienceThat.com (Check them out on facebook by following this link)

Regardless of how the universe is shaped over the course of the next hundred billion years and beyond — hopefully creatures on a distant planet in the Milkdromeda galaxy will have knowledge about a little blue planet named Earth in the future equivalent of text books.It’s too bad you and I won’t be here to see it, but we each play a role in the story of Earth and a little species known as homosapiens.

Image Credits & Sources: 

“The Sun Gets a New Neighbor:” Credit: Millennium Twain (via The Ojia Post)
“VY Canis Majoris:” Credit: User:Mysid (via Wikimedia Commons)
“The Sun Gets a Rival:” Original Author Unknown (See full resolution image here)
“Turbulent Times Ahead For Our Solar System:” Rendering of the Oort Cloud (User: Azcolvin429 via Wikimedia Commons)
“So Long, Phobos. Mars Gets Rings:” Credit: outerspaceuniverse.org (Rings added by fromquarkstoquasars.com)
“Planet-Wide Destruction = Danger:” Stock image (Source)
“The Blue Marble:” Credit: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center Image by Reto Stöckli (land surface, shallow water, clouds). Enhancements by Robert Simmon (ocean color, compositing, 3D globes, animation). Data and technical support: MODIS Land Group; MODIS Science Data Support Team; MODIS Atmosphere Group; MODIS Ocean Group Additional data: USGS EROS Data Center (topography); USGS Terrestrial Remote Sensing Flagstaff Field Center (Antarctica); Defense Meteorological Satellite Program (city lights). (Edits made by fromquarkstoquasars.com. See the original here)
“Goodbye forever, Pale Blue Dot:” Earth/Venus Composite: (Credit: Magabo via: worth1000)
“The Sun as a Red-Giant:” Credit: Oona Räisänen (via WikimediaCommons)
“The Sun Becomes a White Dwarf:” A White Dwarf compared to Earth (Credit: Mark Garlick/Science Photo Library)
“The Milky Way and Andromeda Collide:” Credit: NASA, ESA, Z. Levay and R. Van Der Marel (STci), T. Hallas, and A. Mellinger (via NASA)
“Milkdromeda Enters a Starburst Period:” 3D Rendering of the Milky Way (Credit: JasonsArt.com)
“Runaway Universe Could Collapse:” Big Crunch renering Credit: AIP (via: cerncourier)
“The Virgo Supercluster Disappears:” Diagram of Galaxies in the Virgo Supercluster. Credit: Andrew Z. Colvin (See the full image here, via Wikimedia Commons)