Foundations of Modern Cosmology

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Chapter 11: Modeling the Universe

Chapter Summary

A model of the universe includes a mathematical description of how the scale factor R(t) evolves with time. In this chapter we develop some models of the universe.

As a first approximation, consider the analogy of the Newtonian ball of self-gravitating particles. Gravity acts to try to pull the ball together. If the ball is expanding with sufficient velocity it can resist this collapse. We obtain a simple equation to describe the evolution of this Newtonian ball. One of the most important consequences of this analysis is the realization that gravity permits three possibilities for the evolution of the universe: it could expand forever; it could stop expanding at infinite time; or it could stop expanding at some finite point in time and recollapse.

Remarkably, the fully general relativistic solution for a universe consisting of smoothly distributed matter has the same form as the Newtonian solution. The equations that describe the evolution of the universe under the influence of its self-gravity are called the Friedmann equations. Models in which only gravity operates (i.e. zero cosmological constants) and mass-energy is conserved are called standard models . (They are also widely known as Friedmann-Robertson-Walker models, or FRW models, but we do not refer to them as such in the text.) The three possible fates of the universe were seen to correspond to the three basic geometry types studied in Chapter 8. The hyperbolic universe expands forever; the flat universe expands but ever more slowly, until it ceases expanding at infinite time; and the spherical universe reverses its expansion and collapses in a "big crunch."

From the Friedmann equations we can derive a large number of important parameters:

  • the critical density and the Omega parameter
  • the deceleration parameter q
  • the relationship of the curvature k to q and Omega

The standard models of cosmology assume zero cosmological constant (Lambda). The only force acting is gravity. Then we have the following possible models:

Standard Model Summary Table

Model Geometry k Omega qo Age Fate
Closed Spherical +1 >1 > 1/2 to < 2/3 tH Recollapse
Einstein- deSitter Flat 0 =1 = 1/2 to = 2/3 tH Expand forever
Open Hyperbolic -1 <1 < 1/2 2/3tH < to < tH Expand forever

The special case of the flat (k = 0, Omega = 1), matter-only universe is called the Einstein-deSitter model. Various numerical parameters such as the age of the universe, the lookback time to distant objects, and so forth, are easiest to compute in the Einstein-deSitter model, so it provides a convenient guide for estimation of some cosmological quantities.

Adding a nonzero cosmological constant provides a number of new possible models. Of these nonstandard models, the de Sitter, the Steady State, and the Lemaitre models are the most significant. The cosmological constant acts as an additional force, either attractive (negative lambda) or repulsive (positive lambda). Instead of decreasing in strength with distance like gravity, the "lambda force" increases with scale factor. This means that any nonzero cosmological constant will ultimately dominate the universe. An attractive "lambda force" will cause a recollapse and big crunch regardless of the model's geometry. However, the possibility of an attractive lambda in the physical universe is ruled out by observations. A repulsive lambda force has more interesting possible effects. The details depend upon the model, but eventually all such models expand exponentially.

  • Lambda negative - attractive force and all models recollapse
  • Lambda positive - repulsive force; open and flat models eventually expand at an accelerating rate, q < 0
  • Lambda critical - the value that just balances gravity in the Einstein static spherical model
Points to Ponder

What is the fate of each of the universe models? How do their present ages relate to the Hubble time? How could we determine which model best describes the physical universe?

How do the standard models change if we add a cosmological constant term (Lambda)? Which "Lambda" models will end in a crunch? Which with heat death? What will those ultimate fates be like?

Potential Pitfalls
Questions & Answers

Questions and Answers related to Chapter 11 .

If you are running a Java-enabled browser, try Solving the Friedmann Equation.

Web World

A hypertext tutorial on the big bang can be reached from the Violence in the Cosmos page.

Have astronomers found new evidence for a cosmological constant? Read about it at NASA's astronomy picture of the day web site.