The ultimate fate of an expanding universe
Top: Diagrams of three possible geometries of the universe: closed, open and flat from top to bottom, corresponding to a density parameter Ω0 which is greater than, less than or equal to 1. The closed universe is of finite size and, due to its curvature, traveling far enough in one direction will lead back to one’s starting point. The open and flat universes are infinite and traveling in a constant direction will never lead to the same point.
Bottom: The age and ultimate fate of the universe can be determined by measuring the Hubble constant today and extrapolating with the observed value of the deceleration parameter, uniquely characterized by values of density parameters (ΩM for matter and ΩΛ for dark energy). A “closed universe” with ΩM > 1 and ΩΛ = 0 comes to an end in a Big Crunch and is considerably younger than its Hubble age. An “open universe” with ΩM ≤ 1 and ΩΛ = 0 expands forever and has an age that is closer to its Hubble age. For the accelerating universe with nonzero ΩΛ that we inhabit, the age of the universe is coincidentally very close to the Hubble age.
In Focus: Images of Earth From Above
Yesterday was Earth Day, a time set aside to increase awareness of the natural environment and the impact of our collective actions. In honor of Earth Day, gathered here is a collection of scenes of our home planet from above, from vantage points we don’t see in everyday life. These scenes help show the Earth as a larger system and demonstrate the extent to which human activity has affected it.
See more. [Images: NASA, Google]
Tornadogenesis—the formation of tornadoes—remains a topic of active research as there is relatively little direct experimental data, owing to the difficulty of prediction as well as measurement. Initially, a variation of wind speed at different altitudes in the atmosphere causes shearing, which can lead to the formation of a horizontal column of rotating air—a vortex line similar to a roll cloud. Beneath a developing storm, the updraft of warm local air can pull this vortex line upwards, creating vertical rotation in the cloud, thereby birthing a supercell. Supercells do not always spawn tornadoes, and the exact causes that result in tornadic or nontornadic supercells are not fully understood. However, the formation of tornadoes within the supercell seems dependent on the downdraft of cool air within the storm as well as stretching of the vortex line, which increases its rate of rotation. For more information, check out this explanatory video and some of the talks by Paul Markowski. (Thanks to mindscrib, aggieastronaut and others for their submissions related to this topic! Photo credits: P. Markowski and D. Zaras)