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Unit 11: Dark Energy

© NASA.

Unit Overview

This unit focuses on one of the biggest questions in 21st century physics: what is the fate of the universe? In recent years, astronomers have been surprised to discover that the expansion of the universe is speeding up. We attribute this to the influence of a "dark energy" that may have its origin in the microscopic properties of space itself. Even very simple questions about dark energy, like "has there always been the same amount?" are very difficult to answer. Observers are inventing programs to provide fresh clues to the nature of dark energy. Theorists hope to come up with a good new idea about gravity that will help us understand what we are seeing in the expansion that causes the acceleration of the universe. Astronomers can observe the past but can only predict the future: if dark energy takes the simplest form we can think of, the universe will expand faster and faster, leaving our galaxy in a dark, cold, lonely place.