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Entropy Theories in State of Disorder

Image of Stephen Hawking

Stephen Hawking in freefall flight on board a modified Boeing 727 jet that completes a series of steep ascents and dives to create short periods of weightlessness due to freefall. During this flight Hawking experienced eight such periods. Now one of his theories about entropy is in freefall too. Photo: NASA

By Stephen Luntz

Australian researchers have found that there is more disorder in the universe than previously realised – and that one of Stephen Hawking’s assumptions is probably wrong.

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.

Radio broadcaster Terry Lane used to claim that he lay in bed at night worrying that entropy is increasing. It seems he now has more to worry about than he thought following the discovery that there’s more entropy in the universe than previously realised.

Entropy is the amount of disorder in the universe. As time goes on the universe becomes less ordered, eventually leading to the potential for “heat death”, when the energy in the universe is so evenly distributed that work – and therefore life – becomes impossible. The humour in Lane’s concern lies in the fact that such a fate is hundreds of billions of years away.

However, PhD student Chas Egan and his supervisor Dr Charley Lineweaver from the Australian National University’s Research School of Astronomy and Astrophysics have raised the possibility that there may be far more entropy in the universe than we have realised.

Egan stresses that this doesn’t necessarily mean we’re closer to the end of the universe than previously thought. “It’s very hard to estimate the time to the end of the universe because entropy is increasing so slowly,” he explains.

Egan and Lineweaver have concluded that the entropy in the universe has increased in a series of dramatic steps, with slow increases in between. “What our calculation means in terms of time depends on what you think will happen in the future, and...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.