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Heat death of the universe

Heat death of the universe

Overview
The heat death of the universe is a suggested ultimate fate of the universe
Ultimate fate of the universe
The ultimate fate of the universe is a topic in physical cosmology. Many possible fates are predicted by rival scientific theories, including futures of both finite and infinite duration....

, in which the universe has diminished to a state of no thermodynamic free energy
Thermodynamic free energy
The thermodynamic free energy is the amount of work that a thermodynamic system can perform. The concept is useful in the thermodynamics of chemical or thermal processes in engineering and science. The free energy is the internal energy of a system less the amount of energy that cannot be used to...

 and therefore can no longer sustain motion
Motion (physics)
In physics, motion is a change in position of an object with respect to time. Change in action is the result of an unbalanced force. Motion is typically described in terms of velocity, acceleration, displacement and time . An object's velocity cannot change unless it is acted upon by a force, as...

 or life
Life
Life is a characteristic that distinguishes objects that have signaling and self-sustaining processes from those that do not, either because such functions have ceased , or else because they lack such functions and are classified as inanimate...

. Heat death does not imply any particular absolute temperature; it only requires that temperature differences or other process may no longer be exploited to perform work
Work (thermodynamics)
In thermodynamics, work performed by a system is the energy transferred to another system that is measured by the external generalized mechanical constraints on the system. As such, thermodynamic work is a generalization of the concept of mechanical work in mechanics. Thermodynamic work encompasses...

. In the language of physics
Physics
Physics is a natural science that involves the study of matter and its motion through spacetime, along with related concepts such as energy and force. More broadly, it is the general analysis of nature, conducted in order to understand how the universe behaves.Physics is one of the oldest academic...

, this is when the universe reaches the maximum entropy
Entropy
Entropy is a thermodynamic property that can be used to determine the energy available for useful work in a thermodynamic process, such as in energy conversion devices, engines, or machines. Such devices can only be driven by convertible energy, and have a theoretical maximum efficiency when...

. The hypothesis of heat death stems from the 1850s ideas of William Thomson, 1st Baron Kelvin
William Thomson, 1st Baron Kelvin
William Thomson, 1st Baron Kelvin OM, GCVO, PC, PRS, PRSE, was a mathematical physicist and engineer. At the University of Glasgow he did important work in the mathematical analysis of electricity and formulation of the first and second laws of thermodynamics, and did much to unify the emerging...

, who extrapolated the views of the theory of heat
Theory of heat
In the history of science, the theory of heat or mechanical theory of heat was a theory, introduced predominantly in 1824 by the French physicist Sadi Carnot, that heat and mechanical work are equivalent. It is related to the mechanical equivalent of heat...

 as mechanical energy
Mechanical energy
In physics, mechanical energy is the sum of potential energy and kinetic energy present in the components of a mechanical system. It is the energy associated with the motion and position of an object. The law of conservation of energy states that in an isolated system that is only subject to...

 loss in nature
Nature
Nature, in the broadest sense, is equivalent to the natural world, physical world, or material world. "Nature" refers to the phenomena of the physical world, and also to life in general...

 as embodied in the first two laws of thermodynamics
Laws of thermodynamics
The four laws of thermodynamics summarize its most important facts. They define fundamental physical quantities, such as temperature, energy, and entropy, in order to describe thermodynamic systems. They also describe the transfer of energy as heat and work in thermodynamic processes...

 to processes in the universe.

The idea of heat death stems from the second law of thermodynamics
Second law of thermodynamics
The second law of thermodynamics is an expression of the tendency that over time, differences in temperature, pressure, and chemical potential equilibrate in an isolated physical system. From the state of thermodynamic equilibrium, the law deduced the principle of the increase of entropy and...

, which states that entropy
Entropy
Entropy is a thermodynamic property that can be used to determine the energy available for useful work in a thermodynamic process, such as in energy conversion devices, engines, or machines. Such devices can only be driven by convertible energy, and have a theoretical maximum efficiency when...

 tends to increase in an isolated system
Isolated system
In the natural sciences an isolated system, as contrasted with an open system, is a physical system without any external exchange. If it has any surroundings, it does not interact with them. It obeys in particular the first of the conservation laws: its total energy - mass stays constant...

.
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Encyclopedia
The heat death of the universe is a suggested ultimate fate of the universe
Ultimate fate of the universe
The ultimate fate of the universe is a topic in physical cosmology. Many possible fates are predicted by rival scientific theories, including futures of both finite and infinite duration....

, in which the universe has diminished to a state of no thermodynamic free energy
Thermodynamic free energy
The thermodynamic free energy is the amount of work that a thermodynamic system can perform. The concept is useful in the thermodynamics of chemical or thermal processes in engineering and science. The free energy is the internal energy of a system less the amount of energy that cannot be used to...

 and therefore can no longer sustain motion
Motion (physics)
In physics, motion is a change in position of an object with respect to time. Change in action is the result of an unbalanced force. Motion is typically described in terms of velocity, acceleration, displacement and time . An object's velocity cannot change unless it is acted upon by a force, as...

 or life
Life
Life is a characteristic that distinguishes objects that have signaling and self-sustaining processes from those that do not, either because such functions have ceased , or else because they lack such functions and are classified as inanimate...

. Heat death does not imply any particular absolute temperature; it only requires that temperature differences or other process may no longer be exploited to perform work
Work (thermodynamics)
In thermodynamics, work performed by a system is the energy transferred to another system that is measured by the external generalized mechanical constraints on the system. As such, thermodynamic work is a generalization of the concept of mechanical work in mechanics. Thermodynamic work encompasses...

. In the language of physics
Physics
Physics is a natural science that involves the study of matter and its motion through spacetime, along with related concepts such as energy and force. More broadly, it is the general analysis of nature, conducted in order to understand how the universe behaves.Physics is one of the oldest academic...

, this is when the universe reaches the maximum entropy
Entropy
Entropy is a thermodynamic property that can be used to determine the energy available for useful work in a thermodynamic process, such as in energy conversion devices, engines, or machines. Such devices can only be driven by convertible energy, and have a theoretical maximum efficiency when...

. The hypothesis of heat death stems from the 1850s ideas of William Thomson, 1st Baron Kelvin
William Thomson, 1st Baron Kelvin
William Thomson, 1st Baron Kelvin OM, GCVO, PC, PRS, PRSE, was a mathematical physicist and engineer. At the University of Glasgow he did important work in the mathematical analysis of electricity and formulation of the first and second laws of thermodynamics, and did much to unify the emerging...

, who extrapolated the views of the theory of heat
Theory of heat
In the history of science, the theory of heat or mechanical theory of heat was a theory, introduced predominantly in 1824 by the French physicist Sadi Carnot, that heat and mechanical work are equivalent. It is related to the mechanical equivalent of heat...

 as mechanical energy
Mechanical energy
In physics, mechanical energy is the sum of potential energy and kinetic energy present in the components of a mechanical system. It is the energy associated with the motion and position of an object. The law of conservation of energy states that in an isolated system that is only subject to...

 loss in nature
Nature
Nature, in the broadest sense, is equivalent to the natural world, physical world, or material world. "Nature" refers to the phenomena of the physical world, and also to life in general...

 as embodied in the first two laws of thermodynamics
Laws of thermodynamics
The four laws of thermodynamics summarize its most important facts. They define fundamental physical quantities, such as temperature, energy, and entropy, in order to describe thermodynamic systems. They also describe the transfer of energy as heat and work in thermodynamic processes...

 to processes in the universe.

Origins of the idea


The idea of heat death stems from the second law of thermodynamics
Second law of thermodynamics
The second law of thermodynamics is an expression of the tendency that over time, differences in temperature, pressure, and chemical potential equilibrate in an isolated physical system. From the state of thermodynamic equilibrium, the law deduced the principle of the increase of entropy and...

, which states that entropy
Entropy
Entropy is a thermodynamic property that can be used to determine the energy available for useful work in a thermodynamic process, such as in energy conversion devices, engines, or machines. Such devices can only be driven by convertible energy, and have a theoretical maximum efficiency when...

 tends to increase in an isolated system
Isolated system
In the natural sciences an isolated system, as contrasted with an open system, is a physical system without any external exchange. If it has any surroundings, it does not interact with them. It obeys in particular the first of the conservation laws: its total energy - mass stays constant...

. If the universe lasts for a sufficient time, it will asymptotically
Asymptote
In analytic geometry, an asymptote of a curve is a line such that the distance between the curve and the line approaches zero as they tend to infinity. Some sources include the requirement that the curve may not cross the line infinitely often, but this is unusual for modern authors...

 approach a state where all energy
Energy
In physics, energy is an indirectly observed quantity. It is often understood as the ability a physical system has to do work on other physical systems...

 is evenly distributed. In other words, in nature there is a tendency to the dissipation
Dissipation
In physics, dissipation embodies the concept of a dynamical system where important mechanical models, such as waves or oscillations, lose energy over time, typically from friction or turbulence. The lost energy converts into heat, which raises the temperature of the system. Such systems are called...

 (energy loss) of mechanical energy
Mechanical energy
In physics, mechanical energy is the sum of potential energy and kinetic energy present in the components of a mechanical system. It is the energy associated with the motion and position of an object. The law of conservation of energy states that in an isolated system that is only subject to...

 (motion); hence, by extrapolation, there exists the view that the mechanical movement of the universe will run down, as work is converted to heat, in time due to the second law. The idea of heat death was first proposed in loose terms beginning in 1851 by William Thomson, 1st Baron Kelvin
William Thomson, 1st Baron Kelvin
William Thomson, 1st Baron Kelvin OM, GCVO, PC, PRS, PRSE, was a mathematical physicist and engineer. At the University of Glasgow he did important work in the mathematical analysis of electricity and formulation of the first and second laws of thermodynamics, and did much to unify the emerging...

, who theorized further on the mechanical energy loss views of Sadi Carnot
Nicolas Léonard Sadi Carnot
Nicolas Léonard Sadi Carnot was a French military engineer who, in his 1824 Reflections on the Motive Power of Fire, gave the first successful theoretical account of heat engines, now known as the Carnot cycle, thereby laying the foundations of the second law of thermodynamics...

 (1824), James Joule (1843), and Rudolf Clausius
Rudolf Clausius
Rudolf Julius Emanuel Clausius , was a German physicist and mathematician and is considered one of the central founders of the science of thermodynamics. By his restatement of Sadi Carnot's principle known as the Carnot cycle, he put the theory of heat on a truer and sounder basis...

 (1850). Thomson’s views were then elaborated on more definitively over the next decade by Hermann von Helmholtz
Hermann von Helmholtz
Hermann Ludwig Ferdinand von Helmholtz was a German physician and physicist who made significant contributions to several widely varied areas of modern science...

 and William Rankine.

History


The idea of heat death of the universe derives from discussion of the application of the first two laws of thermodynamics
Laws of thermodynamics
The four laws of thermodynamics summarize its most important facts. They define fundamental physical quantities, such as temperature, energy, and entropy, in order to describe thermodynamic systems. They also describe the transfer of energy as heat and work in thermodynamic processes...

 to universal processes. Specifically, in 1851 William Thomson
William Thomson, 1st Baron Kelvin
William Thomson, 1st Baron Kelvin OM, GCVO, PC, PRS, PRSE, was a mathematical physicist and engineer. At the University of Glasgow he did important work in the mathematical analysis of electricity and formulation of the first and second laws of thermodynamics, and did much to unify the emerging...

 outlined the view, as based on recent experiments on the dynamical theory of heat
Theory of heat
In the history of science, the theory of heat or mechanical theory of heat was a theory, introduced predominantly in 1824 by the French physicist Sadi Carnot, that heat and mechanical work are equivalent. It is related to the mechanical equivalent of heat...

, that "heat is not a substance, but a dynamical form of mechanical effect, we perceive that there must be an equivalence between mechanical work and heat, as between cause and effect."

In 1852, Thomson published his "On a Universal Tendency in Nature to the Dissipation of Mechanical Energy" in which he outlined the rudiments of the second law of thermodynamics
Second law of thermodynamics
The second law of thermodynamics is an expression of the tendency that over time, differences in temperature, pressure, and chemical potential equilibrate in an isolated physical system. From the state of thermodynamic equilibrium, the law deduced the principle of the increase of entropy and...

 summarized by the view that mechanical motion and the energy used to create that motion will tend to dissipate or run down, naturally. The ideas in this paper, in relation to their application to the age of the sun
Sun
The Sun is the star at the center of the Solar System. It is almost perfectly spherical and consists of hot plasma interwoven with magnetic fields...

 and the dynamics of the universal operation, attracted the likes of William Rankine and Hermann von Helmholtz
Hermann von Helmholtz
Hermann Ludwig Ferdinand von Helmholtz was a German physician and physicist who made significant contributions to several widely varied areas of modern science...

. The three of them were said to have exchanged ideas on this subject. In 1862, Thomson published "On the age of the sun’s heat", an article in which he reiterated his fundamental beliefs in the indestructibility of energy (the first law
First law of thermodynamics
The first law of thermodynamics is an expression of the principle of conservation of work.The law states that energy can be transformed, i.e. changed from one form to another, but cannot be created nor destroyed...

) and the universal dissipation of energy (the second law
Second law of thermodynamics
The second law of thermodynamics is an expression of the tendency that over time, differences in temperature, pressure, and chemical potential equilibrate in an isolated physical system. From the state of thermodynamic equilibrium, the law deduced the principle of the increase of entropy and...

), leading to diffusion of heat, cessation of useful motion (work), and exhaustion of potential energy
Potential energy
In physics, potential energy is the energy stored in a body or in a system due to its position in a force field or due to its configuration. The SI unit of measure for energy and work is the Joule...

 through the material universe while clarifying his view of the consequences for the universe as a whole. In a key paragraph, Thomson wrote:

The result would inevitably be a state of universal rest and death, if the universe were finite and left to obey existing laws. But it is impossible to conceive a limit to the extent of matter in the universe; and therefore science points rather to an endless progress, through an endless space, of action involving the transformation of potential energy
Potential energy
In physics, potential energy is the energy stored in a body or in a system due to its position in a force field or due to its configuration. The SI unit of measure for energy and work is the Joule...

 into palpable motion and hence into heat
Heat
In physics and thermodynamics, heat is energy transferred from one body, region, or thermodynamic system to another due to thermal contact or thermal radiation when the systems are at different temperatures. It is often described as one of the fundamental processes of energy transfer between...

, than to a single finite mechanism, running down like a clock, and stopping for ever.


In the years to follow both Thomson’s 1852 and the 1865 papers, Helmholtz and Rankine both credited Thomson with the idea, but read further into his papers by publishing views stating that Thomson argued that the universe will end in a "heat death" (Helmholtz) which will be the "end of all physical phenomena" (Rankine).

Current status


Inflationary cosmology suggests that in the early universe, before cosmic inflation
Cosmic inflation
In physical cosmology, cosmic inflation, cosmological inflation or just inflation is the theorized extremely rapid exponential expansion of the early universe by a factor of at least 1078 in volume, driven by a negative-pressure vacuum energy density. The inflationary epoch comprises the first part...

, energy was uniformly distributed, and the universe was thus in a state superficially similar to heat death. However, these two states are actually very different: in the early universe, gravity was a very important force, and in a gravitational system, if energy is uniformly distributed, entropy
Entropy
Entropy is a thermodynamic property that can be used to determine the energy available for useful work in a thermodynamic process, such as in energy conversion devices, engines, or machines. Such devices can only be driven by convertible energy, and have a theoretical maximum efficiency when...

 is quite low, compared to a state in which most matter has collapsed into black hole
Black hole
A black hole is a region of spacetime from which nothing, not even light, can escape. The theory of general relativity predicts that a sufficiently compact mass will deform spacetime to form a black hole. Around a black hole there is a mathematically defined surface called an event horizon that...

s. Thus, such a state is not in thermodynamic equilibrium
Thermodynamic equilibrium
In thermodynamics, a thermodynamic system is said to be in thermodynamic equilibrium when it is in thermal equilibrium, mechanical equilibrium, radiative equilibrium, and chemical equilibrium. The word equilibrium means a state of balance...

, as it is thermodynamically unstable. However, in the heat death scenario, the energy density is so low that the system can be thought of as non-gravitational, such that a state in which energy is uniformly distributed is a thermal equilibrium state, i.e., the state of maximal entropy.

The final state of the universe depends on the assumptions made about its ultimate fate
Ultimate fate of the universe
The ultimate fate of the universe is a topic in physical cosmology. Many possible fates are predicted by rival scientific theories, including futures of both finite and infinite duration....

, and these assumptions have varied considerably over the late 20th century and early 21st century. In a "closed" universe
Big Crunch
In physical cosmology, the Big Crunch is one possible scenario for the ultimate fate of the universe, in which the metric expansion of space eventually reverses and the universe recollapses, ultimately ending as a black hole singularity.- Overview :...

 that undergoes recollapse, a heat death is expected to occur, with the universe approaching arbitrarily high temperature and maximal entropy as the end of the collapse approaches. In an "open" or "flat" universe that continues expanding indefinitely, a heat death is also expected to occur, with the universe cooling to approach absolute zero temperature and approaching a state of maximal entropy over a very long time period. There is dispute over whether or not an expanding universe can approach maximal entropy; it has been proposed that in an expanding universe, the value of maximum entropy increases faster than the universe gains entropy, causing the universe to move progressively further away from heat death. (See Ludwig Boltzmann#The Second Law as a law of disorder)

There is also some uncertainty remaining on the exact value of the current entropy of the universe. A recent analysis of entropy suggests that the visible universe has more entropy than previously thought. This is because the research concludes that supermassive black holes are the largest contributor.

Time frame for heat death



From the Big Bang
Big Bang
The Big Bang theory is the prevailing cosmological model that explains the early development of the Universe. According to the Big Bang theory, the Universe was once in an extremely hot and dense state which expanded rapidly. This rapid expansion caused the young Universe to cool and resulted in...

 through the present day and well into the future, matter and dark matter
Dark matter
In astronomy and cosmology, dark matter is matter that neither emits nor scatters light or other electromagnetic radiation, and so cannot be directly detected via optical or radio astronomy...

 in the universe are thought to be concentrated in star
Star
A star is a massive, luminous sphere of plasma held together by gravity. At the end of its lifetime, a star can also contain a proportion of degenerate matter. The nearest star to Earth is the Sun, which is the source of most of the energy on Earth...

s, galaxies, and galaxy cluster
Galaxy cluster
A galaxy cluster is a compact cluster of galaxies. Basic difference between a galaxy group and a galaxy cluster is that there are many more galaxies in a cluster than in a group. Also, galaxies in a cluster are more compact and have higher velocity dispersion. One of the key features of cluster is...

s. Therefore, the universe is not in thermodynamic equilibrium and objects can do physical work
Work (thermodynamics)
In thermodynamics, work performed by a system is the energy transferred to another system that is measured by the external generalized mechanical constraints on the system. As such, thermodynamic work is a generalization of the concept of mechanical work in mechanics. Thermodynamic work encompasses...

., §VID. The decay time for a supermassive black hole
Black hole
A black hole is a region of spacetime from which nothing, not even light, can escape. The theory of general relativity predicts that a sufficiently compact mass will deform spacetime to form a black hole. Around a black hole there is a mathematically defined surface called an event horizon that...

 of roughly 1 galaxy-mass (1011 solar mass
Solar mass
The solar mass , , is a standard unit of mass in astronomy, used to indicate the masses of other stars and galaxies...

es) due to Hawking radiation
Hawking radiation
Hawking radiation is a thermal radiation with a black body spectrum predicted to be emitted by black holes due to quantum effects. It is named after the physicist Stephen Hawking, who provided a theoretical argument for its existence in 1974, and sometimes also after the physicist Jacob Bekenstein...

 is in the order of 10100 years, so entropy
Entropy
Entropy is a thermodynamic property that can be used to determine the energy available for useful work in a thermodynamic process, such as in energy conversion devices, engines, or machines. Such devices can only be driven by convertible energy, and have a theoretical maximum efficiency when...

 can be produced until at least that time. After that time, the universe enters the so-called dark era, and is expected to consist chiefly of a dilute gas of photon
Photon
In physics, a photon is an elementary particle, the quantum of the electromagnetic interaction and the basic unit of light and all other forms of electromagnetic radiation. It is also the force carrier for the electromagnetic force...

s and lepton
Lepton
A lepton is an elementary particle and a fundamental constituent of matter. The best known of all leptons is the electron which governs nearly all of chemistry as it is found in atoms and is directly tied to all chemical properties. Two main classes of leptons exist: charged leptons , and neutral...

s., §VIA. With only very diffuse matter remaining, activity in the universe will have tailed off dramatically, with extremely low energy levels and extremely long time scales. Speculatively, it is possible that the universe may enter a second inflationary epoch, or, assuming that the current vacuum
Vacuum
In everyday usage, vacuum is a volume of space that is essentially empty of matter, such that its gaseous pressure is much less than atmospheric pressure. The word comes from the Latin term for "empty". A perfect vacuum would be one with no particles in it at all, which is impossible to achieve in...

 state is a false vacuum
False vacuum
In quantum field theory, a false vacuum is a metastable sector of space that appears to be a perturbative vacuum, but is unstable due to instanton effects that may tunnel to a lower energy state. This tunneling can be caused by quantum fluctuations or the creation of high-energy particles...

, the vacuum may decay into a lower-energy state., §VE. It is also possible that entropy production will cease and the universe will achieve heat death., §VID.

See also


  • Exasecond and longer
  • Big Bang
    Big Bang
    The Big Bang theory is the prevailing cosmological model that explains the early development of the Universe. According to the Big Bang theory, the Universe was once in an extremely hot and dense state which expanded rapidly. This rapid expansion caused the young Universe to cool and resulted in...

  • Big Bounce
    Big Bounce
    The Big Bounce is a theoretical scientific model of the formation of the known universe. It is implied by the cyclic model or oscillatory universe interpretation of the Big Bang where the first cosmological event was the result of the collapse of a previous universe.- Expansion and contraction...

  • Big Crunch
    Big Crunch
    In physical cosmology, the Big Crunch is one possible scenario for the ultimate fate of the universe, in which the metric expansion of space eventually reverses and the universe recollapses, ultimately ending as a black hole singularity.- Overview :...

  • Big Rip
    Big Rip
    The Big Rip is a cosmological hypothesis first published in 2003, about the ultimate fate of the universe, in which the matter of the universe, from stars and galaxies to atoms and subatomic particles, is progressively torn apart by the expansion of the universe at a certain time in the future...

  • Cyclic model
    Cyclic model
    A cyclic model is any of several cosmological models in which the universe follows infinite, self-sustaining cycles. For example, the oscillating universe theory briefly considered by Albert Einstein in 1930 theorized a universe following an eternal series of oscillations, each beginning with a...

  • Dyson's eternal intelligence
    Dyson's eternal intelligence
    Dyson's eternal intelligence is a concept that states an intelligent being would be able to think an infinite number of thoughts in an open universe....

  • Entropy (arrow of time)
    Entropy (arrow of time)
    Entropy is the only quantity in the physical sciences that requires a particular direction for time, sometimes called an arrow of time. As one goes "forward" in time, the second law of thermodynamics says, the entropy of an isolated system will increase...

  • Final anthropic principle
  • Graphical timeline from Big Bang to Heat Death
    Graphical timeline from Big Bang to Heat Death
    This is the timeline of the Universe from Big Bang to Heat Death scenario. The different Eras of the Universe are shown.Usually the logarithmic scale is used for such timelines but it compresses the most interesting Stelliferous Era too much as this example shows. Therefore a double-logarithmic...

  • Heat death paradox
  • The Last Question
    The Last Question
    "The Last Question" is a science fiction short story by Isaac Asimov. It first appeared in the November 1956 issue of Science Fiction Quarterly and was reprinted in the collections Nine Tomorrows , The Best of Isaac Asimov , Robot Dreams , the retrospective Opus 100 , and in Isaac Asimov: The...

  • Timeline of the Big Bang
    Timeline of the Big Bang
    This timeline of the Big Bang describes the history of the universe according to the prevailing scientific theory of how the universe came into being, using the cosmological time parameter of comoving coordinates...

  • Fire and Ice (poem)
    Fire and Ice (poem)
    "Fire and Ice" is one of Robert Frost's most popular poems, published in December 1920 in Harper's Magazine and in 1923 in his Pulitzer-prize winning book New Hampshire. It discusses the end of the world, likening the elemental force of fire with the emotion of desire, and ice with hate...


Further reading