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Boffins: The universe is DOOMED and there's nothing to be done

Your existential dread is entirely justified, but perhaps a trillion years premature

Overhead, without any fuss, the stars were are going out. Don't worry, though: the heat death of the universe is still hundreds of trillions of years away.

That's the conclusion of work announced by the Galaxy and Mass Assembly (GAMA) survey, which has looked at 200,000 "nearby" galaxies across 21 wavelengths between the ultraviolet and the infrared.

What they've found is that the energy output of those galaxies today is "only about half of what it was two billion years ago," and the fading can be seen in all the studied wavelengths.

The "heat death" of the universe has been predicted since the 1990s, but this survey is the "most comprehensive" assessment of the energy output of the local region of space.

And yes, the paraphrase of Arthur C Clarke is justified: what's happening is that the galaxies are losing stars faster than they're making new ones.

The University of Western Australia's Simon Driver, the lucky International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research professor who heads the GAMA team, says the universe is "sliding gently into old age."

"The universe has basically sat down on the sofa, pulled up a blanket, and is about to nod off for an eternal doze," he added.

A very long eternal doze: NASA AMES research scientist Mehmet Alpaslan told Discovery: "At some point, all matter will eventually decay. We're observing the lights slowly shutting down... The timeline for all this to come to pass is very long, hundreds of trillions of years."

The telescopes and datasets used for this survey were GALEX (the Galaxy Evolution Explorer) at Caltech, the Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS), the KIDS and VISTA datasets from the ESO's Chilean instruments, the Anglo-Australian Telescope, the UK IR Telescope in Hawaii, and the space-based WISE (NASA) and HERSCHEL (ESO) instruments.

GAMA has released the data to scientists, with the warning that the 10 TB dataset contains many individual images around 80 GB. That's because the images are 230°2 with photometry in 21 bands.

As well as telling us about the coming heat death of the universe, the GAMA data (which will be expanded as new facilities like the Square Kilometre Array come online) will also support research into galaxy formation. ®

Bootnote: Mea maxima culpa for mis-attributing the end of The Nine Billion Names of God to Asimov instead of Clarke. ®

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