How will our universe end? Have astronomers made any prediction about its ultimate fate?

With their powerful telescopes and equally powerful theories, astronomers have been tracing the birth of our universe to a violent event called the Big Bang, which occurred about 13.7 billion years ago. In the wake of this event, the universe was set expending. The expansion still continues, with galaxies moving apart from one another. But will it keep expending forever? The answer depends on whether the Universe is open or closed.

The closed universe model says that expansion will eventually come to a halt and, thereafter, the universe will begin to contract. There is one force that always opposes the expansion of the universe, and that is the force of gravity between the clusters of galaxies. It tries to slow down their separation. There is a tussle between the outward expansion and the inward pull of gravity. If gravity gains the upper hand, its attractive force will rein in the speeding galaxies and bring them to standstill. And then, gravity will draw them all together again. The universe will shrink like a balloon with its air streaming out and eventually contract to end in what is called a Big Crunch. (See, diagram below). It’s the exact opposite of the Big Bang, which stirred the universe. In essence, this means that ours is a closed universe. Alternatively, the universe might be open, like an infinitely large piece of rubber sheet shown in the diagram and in this case it will continue its course of expansion for eternity. In recent years, astronomers have detected a mysterious force acting as dark energy which has repulsive effect. It is accelerating the expansion of the universe. If the dark energy, overpowers the force of gravity, the universe will continue to expand even after the stars and galaxies die.

The Big Crunch
There is yet another model known as the oscillating universe which says that after the Big Crunch, another Big Bang will occur. This idea is accord with the Hindu cosmology. The postulation is that Lord Brahma is the inventor of the Big Bang and Lord Shiva, in his form of Natraj, rolls back the universe and brings about the Big Crunch. This is followed by another round of creation and destruction, so you have the universe that oscillates between the two extremes.

Additional reading:
Big Crunch (Wikipedia)
Ultimate fate of the universe (Wikipedia)

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