The Cosmic Energy Inventory
Now that the old year has drawn to a close, it’s traditional to take stock. And why not think big and take stock of everything there is.
Let’s base our inventory on energy. And as Einstein taught us that energy and mass are equivalent, that means automatically taking stock of all the mass that’s in the universe, as well – including all the different forms of matter we might be interested in.
Of course, since the universe might well be infinite in size, we can’t simply add up all the energy. What we’ll do instead is look at fractions: How much of the energy in the universe is in the form of planets? How much is in the form of stars? How much is plasma, or dark matter, or dark energy?
The chart above is a fairly detailed inventory of our universe. The numbers I’ve used are from the article The Cosmic Energy Inventory by Masataka Fukugita and Jim Peebles, published in 2004 in the Astrophysical Journal (vol. 616, p. 643ff.). The chart style is borrowed from Randall Munroe’s Radiation Dose Chart over at xkcd.
These fractions will have changed a lot over time, of course. Around 13.7 billion years ago, in the big bang phase, there would have been no stars at all. And the number of, say, neutron stars or stellar black holes will have grown continuously as more and more massive stars have ended their lives, producing these kinds of stellar remnants. For this chart, following Fukugita and Peebles, we’ll look at the present era. What is the current distribution of energy in the universe?
Unsurprisingly, the values given in that article come with different uncertainties – after all, the authors are extrapolating to a pretty grand scale! The details can be found in Fukugita & Peebles’ article; for us, their most important conclusion is that the observational data and their theoretical bases are now indeed firm enough for an approximate, but differentiated and consistent picture of the cosmic inventory to emerge.
read more: universetoday by Nancy Atkinson
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