KEY POINTS

  • A new study predicted how the universe will end
  • The universe will run out of energy to create new stars
  • The universe could end in explosions caused by "black dwarfs," the paper said

A new study predicted that the universe will end in a series of explosions called “black dwarf supernovas.” This will occur once the universe stops creating new stars after it runs out of energy.

The study was conducted by Matt Caplan, an assistant professor of physics at Illinois State University. His paper was submitted for publication at the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

In his study, Caplan theorized that as the universe continues to expand, it will eventually run out of energy. Gas in the universe, which is one of the main factors in the formation of new stars, will also run out.

Caplan refers to this event as heat death, which is also known as the big freeze. During this period, the remaining stars will begin to die out. Eventually, only the remnants of dead stars such as black holes, neutron stars and white dwarfs will remain in the universe.

Since white dwarfs are not massive or dense enough to trigger supernova events like other stars, they will go through a completely different reaction. According to Caplan, as the white dwarfs grow dimmer and colder, they will eventually turn into “black dwarf” stars.

“Stars less than about 10 times the mass of the sun do not have the gravity or density to produce iron in their cores the way massive stars do, so they can’t explode in a supernova right now,” Caplan explained in a press release. “As white dwarfs cool down over the next few trillion years, they’ll grow dimmer, eventually freeze solid, and become ‘black dwarf’ stars that no longer shine.”

Over time, the black dwarfs will experience internal nuclear reactions through quantum tunneling, which occurs as the nuclei of the stellar remnant bounce around and crash into one another. This reaction turns the black dwarf into iron and triggers a supernova event.

According to Caplan, the series of supernova events caused by the black dwarf stars could happen trillions upon trillions of years from now once the universe runs out of fuel.

“In years, it’s like saying the word ‘trillion’ almost a hundred times,” he stated. “If you wrote it out, it would take up most of a page. It’s mind-bogglingly far in the future.”

Caplan said it is highly unlikely that anyone will be able to actually witness a black dwarf supernova in real life, thus he plans to try to simulate one on a computer.

Supernova 3D Model The 3D model of a supernova provides new insight into what is happening right before the explosion of a star. Photo: Arnett, Meakin and Viallet/AIP Advances