The Study of Space a Window of Opportunity

This article comments on the expansion principle, and how that affects our perceptions of the universe in comparison to perceptions made hundreds of millions of years from now.

When we think of space, we usually think of the massive expanse of stars and gasses that forms the Milky Way, and the immense sea of distant galaxies almost unimaginably far from our own. One may be inclined to think that this will always be the case, since the universe is so big the idea that it can change in some substantial way seems absurd. The truth is that hundreds of millions of years from now, the night sky, as observed by humans or any other forms of life, will be fundamentally and irreversibly different.

It’s well known and documented that the universe is expanding at a rapid pace, and that the gravity that binds the galaxies together means that most of the new space is being created in between galaxies. Modern theories and studies have been targeted at determining just what this expansion entails, whether it will stop or continue, and what will happen when the universe ‘finishes’ expanding, if that does happen. Regardless of the nature of expansion, we know that the universe is expanding at a rate that could be considered rapid, and that some stellar bodies appear slightly smaller to earthbound observers as the years pass.

Scientists have begun considering the question of what future life forms or future generations of humans will see when they observe the night sky. Although the universe as we know it will look largely the same for the rest of earth’s existence, and even that of the sun, hundreds of millions of years from now, the galaxies apart from our own will be so far away that their light won’t be detectable from our galaxy, by any means. This means that in the future, any sentient life forms, human or otherwise, will not be left with the impression that the universe is composed of billions upon billions of galaxies.

The truth of the matter is that this window of a few billion years in which humanity happened to come in to existence is unique in a fundamental way. Although the length of time in which we have to observe the current universe is a considerable one, the realization that the knowledge we’ve taken as being universally available will not always be there. This new perspective on astronomy will undoubtedly hold weight in years to come, as scientists have already begun questioning the ethics of studying space, and whether or not the fact that this knowledge is limited burdens humankind with any obligation to document it while it lasts.


Science Daily, Astronomy

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Suba Lakshminarasimhan
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Posted on Apr 9, 2010