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Constant mass or changing universe?

Estimated reading time: 5 minutes

To inquire whether the universe’s mass is constant is a question that has perplexed many great minds throughout history. Indeed, the notion of a continuous universe was a prevailing scientific belief for centuries until later discoveries and theories challenged it. In this article, we shall provide a comprehensive and elaborate response to this inquiry by delving into the historical background of this subject matter, examining the idea of a static universe, exploring the implications of General Relativity and the Big Bang Theory, and ultimately addressing the question at hand.

Let’s get the facts right

Before we address the title problem, we need to clarify some terminology: It is a common misunderstanding to conflate mass with weight. Mass is a rudimentary property of matter and refers to the amount of material in an object. In contrast, weight measures the force exerted on an object due to gravity. The weight of an object changes depending on its location in the universe, but its mass remains constant.

For example, consider a 5-kilogram mass on Earth. The force of gravity acting on this mass gives it a weight of approximately 49 Newtons. However, if the same mass were taken to the moon, its weight would be reduced to only 1/6th of that on Earth due to the weaker gravitational pull. Nevertheless, its mass would remain constant at 5 kilograms.

It is, therefore, essential to differentiate between mass and weight because they have different physical meanings and implications. Mass is conserved in biological processes, and it is an intrinsic property of an object that determines its inertia and gravitational attraction. In contrast, weight is not conserved, and it depends on the gravitational field in which the object is located.

The notion of a static universe has its roots in the early Greek philosophers who believed in a perfect, unchanging cosmos. This idea continued to dominate scientific thought for centuries until the development of modern astronomy in the 20th century. The discovery of galaxies and their motion challenged the notion of a static universe, as they appeared to be moving away from each other. This finding led to the formulation of the Hubble Law, which showed that galaxies were receding from each other at a rate proportional to their distance.

This discovery was the first indication that the universe was expanding, leading to the formulation of the Big Bang Theory. The theory suggests that the universe formed from a singularity, a point of limitless density and temperature, rapidly expanding in a Big Bang. The universe’s expansion continues today, as evidenced by the redshift of light from distant galaxies.

Big Bang, again…

The Big Bang Theory also has implications for the universe’s mass. According to this theory, the universe began as a singularity with a finite mass. As the universe expanded, its mass remained constant, but its density decreased. This circumstance means that the mass per unit volume of the universe has decreased over time. Therefore, the universe’s mass is not constant but has increased as it expands.

Another theory that has implications for the question of the mass of the universe is General Relativity. This theory describes the relationship between gravity, space, and time. According to General Relativity, gravity results from the curvature of spacetime by mass and energy. The theory predicts that the distribution of mass and energy in the universe will determine the curvature of spacetime, affecting objects’ motion.

The distribution of mass and energy in the universe is not uniform, and this non-uniformity affects the curvature of spacetime. Therefore, the distribution of mass and energy in the universe affects the motion of objects in the universe. This allotment implies that the universe’s mass is not constant, as the universe’s distribution of mass and energy is not constant.

Furthermore, the presence of dark matter and dark energy in the universe also suggests that the universe’s mass is not constant. These invisible forms of matter and energy are thought to make up approximately 95% of the total mass energy of the universe. The discovery of dark matter and energy has important implications for the structure and evolution of the universe and our understanding of the fundamental laws of physics.

Current estimates place the universe’s mass between 10^53 kg and 10^60 kg. However, it is paramount to note that these estimates are based on various assumptions and extrapolations and, thus, may be subject to revision as new data and theories emerge.

One of the main challenges in estimating the universe’s mass is that much of its matter is dark matter, which cannot be directly observed or measured using current techniques. Dark matter is a hypothesized state of matter that does not interact with light or other forms of electromagnetic radiation and is believed to make up about 27% of the total mass-energy content of the universe.

Another challenge in estimating the universe’s mass is that it is difficult to observe and measure highly far away and faint objects, such as galaxies and galaxy clusters. Astronomers use various techniques to estimate the mass of these objects, such as counting the velocities of stars and galaxies within them and observing the gravitational lensing effect that occurs when their gravity bends the light of more distant objects.

Scientific consensus

Despite these challenges, astronomers have made significant progress in estimating the universe’s mass over the past century. Early estimates based on observations of individual galaxies suggested that the universe was composed mainly of visible matter and had a relatively small mass. However, discovering dark matter and developing more sophisticated observational techniques have led to higher total mass estimates.

To conclude, whether the universe’s mass is constant has been a subject of scientific inquiry for centuries. The finding of the expansion of the universe and the development of the Big Bang Theory challenged the prevailing belief in a static universe. General Relativity also suggests that the universe’s mass is not constant, as the distribution of mass and energy affects the curvature of spacetime. The presence of dark matter and energy further supports the notion that the universe’s mass is not constant. Therefore, it can be concluded that the universe’s mass is not constant. However, it has increased as the universe expands and is affected by the distribution of mass and energy in the universe.

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"Constant mass or changing universe?" in Space Expert, 2024
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