About MAP  Home Page
 Skip Section Navigation  Big Bang Theory  Big Bang Tests  Beyond Big Bang  Our Universe  Related Topics
 Skip Site Navigation
 MAP Mission  Universe  Image Gallery  Outreach (News & Education)  Help / Search

Is the Universe Infinite?


The shape of the universe is determined by a struggle between the momentum of expansion and the pull of gravity. The rate of expansion is expressed by the Hubble Constant, Ho, while the strength of gravity depends on the density and pressure of the matter in the universe. If the pressure of the matter is low, as is the case with most forms of matter we know of, then the fate of the universe is governed by the density. If the density of the universe is less than the "critical density" which is proportional to the square of the Hubble constant, then the universe will expand forever. If the density of the universe is greater than the "critical density", then gravity will eventually win and the universe will collapse back on itself, the so called "Big Crunch". However, the results of the WMAP mission and observations of distant supernova have suggested that the expansion of the universe is actually accelerating which implies the existence of a form of matter with a strong negative pressure, such as the cosmological constant. This strange form of matter is also sometimes referred to as the "dark energy". If dark energy in fact plays a significant role in the evolution of the universe, then in all likelihood the universe will continue to expand forever.

Geometry of the UniversePossible space curvatures of the universe: Closed, Flat, Open

The density of the universe also determines its geometry. If the density of the universe exceeds the critical density, then the geometry of space is closed and positively curved like the surface of a sphere. This implies that initially parallel photon paths converge slowly, eventually cross, and return back to their starting point (if the universe lasts long enough). If the density of the universe is less than the critical density, then the geometry of space is open, negatively curved like the surface of a saddle. If the density of the universe exactly equals the critical density, then the geometry of the universe is flat like a sheet of paper. Thus, there is a direct link between the geometry of the universe and its fate.

The simplest version of the inflationary theory, an extension of the Big Bang theory, predicts that the density of the universe is very close to the critical density, and that the geometry of the universe is flat, like a sheet of paper. That is the result confirmed by the WMAP science.

Measurements from WMAP

The WMAP spacecraft can measure the basic parameters of the Big Bang theory including the geometry of the universe. If the universe were open, the brightest microwave background fluctuations (or "spots") would be about half a degree across. If the universe were flat, the spots would be about 1 degree across. While if the universe were closed, the brightest spots would be about 1.5 degrees across.

Recent measurements (c. 2001) by a number of ground-based and balloon-based experiments, including MAT/TOCO, Boomerang, Maxima, and DASI, have shown that the brightest spots are about 1 degree across. Thus the universe was known to be flat to within about 15% accuracy prior to the WMAP results. WMAP has confirmed this result with very high accuracy and precision. We now know that the universe is flat with only a 2% margin of error.

Overview Matter Expansion Age You are on the page:Shape Acceleration Fate

Last updated: Monday, 03-21-2005

Back to Top
Navigation image mapSite Map & SearchContactsMission StatusNews And PressLinksOutreach (Educators)Image GalleryUniverseMAP MissionAbout MAPHome
Responsible NASA Official: Gary HinshawWebmaster: Britt Griswold
Comments & Suggestions - Privacy/Security Warning
Overview

Matter

Expansion

Age

You are on the page: Shape

Acceleration

Life

Fate