No one, with the exception of a team of astronomers, knew that anything had changed. Indeed, virtually none of the Earth’s population was aware of, or cared about, events at the edge of the universe. Had the event started just a few years earlier, prior to the advent of the Hubble Space Telescope, not even the astronomers would have noticed. At least they would not have noticed as early.
“It’s the most amazing thing, Louis. Over the entire sky, I measure galaxy redshifts and they obey Hubble’s law of universal expansion. But here, in this one small region, recent measurements of the redshift of the most distant galaxies seem to have increased far beyond the universal expansion. Yet just a year ago, measurements indicated that they, too were consistent with Hubble’s law. For some reason these galaxies seem to be racing outward at much higher speeds than the rest of the universe.” Dr. Richard Sevenson was puzzled by recent observations.
“Could it be an instrument error?” asked Dr. Wilson
“I thought of that, so we checked the redshifts of galaxies in another part of the sky – they were exactly as expected.”
“Perhaps there’s something out there acting as a strong attractor.”
“Like a huge black hole?”
“Perhaps, but for it to be sufficiently massive to influence the motion of several galaxies like this means it would be unlike anything we’ve ever observed before.”
“Could it be that the expansion due to dark force increases more rapidly at high redshift than we thought?”
“Then we’d see this redshift over the entire celestial sphere, not just in one direction.”
“Maybe it’s a distortion in dark energy on a huge scale.”
“Then whatever it is would repel the galaxies in every direction. We should see some objects being pushed away from us, others toward us. We’d see increased redshifts and decreased redshifts. We’re not seeing that. Besides, since the recession velocities of these galaxies is increasing, this thing would have to be closer to us than the galaxies. Yet we see no objects in that direction; whatever it is shouldn’t be too hard to observe.”
The rest of the world went about its business, unaware that something of inconceivable magnitude was occurring at the edge of the universe. But the team of astronomers continued their watch.
Some years later, Sevenson read a paper at the annual conference of the American Astronomical Society. “So whatever this is, it not only continues to accelerate the recession of galaxies in this finite region near the edge of the universe, but we now have evidence to suggest its sphere of influence is increasing. Ten times more galaxies are accelerating beyond the local expansion of the universe than were just four years ago. It’s still too early to measure the rate of this increase, but the fact that we observed an increase at all in just a few years suggests the sphere of influence is increasing at a prodigious rate.”
“Could this be a large galaxy swallowing other nearby galaxies? We know of cannibal galaxies in the local group- hell, the Milky Way is a cannibal!”
“Your monster galaxy would have to be dark, or else shrouded in gas, or very distant. Galaxies light up when they consume other galaxies. I don’t like the possibility that the galaxy is extremely distant, as that would require it to be that much more massive. Besides, the affected galaxies are very close to the edge of the universe. We see nothing beyond these galaxies. If there is something out there gravitationally attracting the galaxies to produce this red shift, it would have to be the most massive object in the universe by hundreds of orders of magnitude.”
“If it’s obscured by dust, we’d see an infrared signature.”
“There is none.”
A murmur swept through the audience. The session moderator stepped in, “Sorry, but that’s all the time we have for questions. Thank you, Dr. Sevenson for your intriguing paper. Our next paper is….”
Wilson had asked for a meeting. Sevenson assumed it was about his research into galactic clusters. But they were so distant their motion across the sky would be undetectable.
“I think some of these galaxies have proper motion. They’re moving across our line of sight,”
“Impossible. At that distance, for an object to have any appreciable motion across our line of sight, it would have to be travelling at several times the speed of light.”
“Look at this image of that region from five years ago.”
Sevenson saw an image with many galaxies randomly distributed.
“Now look at this image of the same region from last year.”
It was another image with randomly distributed spiral galaxies.
“Now watch this region near the center when I shift between the two.”
Wilson set the computer to alternate between the two images twice a second. The images were so similar, that at first Sevenson was unaware that he was looking at alternating images. But when he looked near the center, his eye caught a few objects bouncing back and forth. That indicated they moved significantly over the time interval between the images. Sevenson noticed that the jumping galaxies seemed to form a ring which alternated between two diameters: first large, then small, then large, then small…
“Which way are they moving?”
“These galaxies”, Wilson pointed to the ring of jumping galaxies,”are all moving toward a single point – here.”
Sevenson looked where Wilson pointed – there was nothing there.
“So, no visible attractor.”
“Nothing visible. Now the radial velocities indicate that as the galaxies move together, they are also moving away from us as a group. If I combine the radial and transverse velocities, the galaxies all seem to be travelling toward a point beyond the edge of the universe. If they are being drawn by an attractor, it’s outside the known universe.”
Over time, the number of galaxies appearing to move toward this mysterious point increased. Each time Sevenson and Wilson looked at alternating images separated by a few years’ time, the ring of galaxies jumping back and forth grew bigger and included more galaxies.
After a few decades, measurements could be made of the rate of increase of the sphere of influence. The result was shocking.
“The process is accelerating!” Wilson told Sevenson.
“The number of galaxies involved isn’t increasing linearly. It looks exponential.”
Soon there was sufficient data to estimate the rate of acceleration. Astronomers who were sanguine in the knowledge that extrapolations of the originally estimated rate of growth suggested it wouldn’t affect our galaxy for billions of years now calculated that it would reach us in hundreds of years. Still beyond the astronomer’s lifetime, but soon enough to affect their children’s children.
Within two generations, astronomers observed nearby galaxies being drawn in the direction the distant galaxies were racing. The galaxies near the edge of the universe that were the first observed racing toward this point had disappeared, and closer galaxies were now moving toward the mysterious ‘hole’ at the edge of the universe.
Closer to the Milky Way galaxies were stretching, like someone grabbing either side of a rubber band and pulling. In time, astronomers could see the edge of the Milky Way starting to stretch. Stars were being sucked out of our galaxy to join the vast rush toward the hole at the edge of the universe. The galaxy couldn’t resist this force and like a cloud blown apart by the wind, stretched into a thin wisp millions of light years long.
The same forces that were pulling so hard on the galaxy worked on the Earth as well. At first, geologists noted a gradual increase in seismic activity. Ocean tides became more extreme. Then it was discovered the earth’s rotation was slowing. Though the Earth appears as a sphere, its mass distribution is not uniform. The heavier portions of the earth’s volume were being pulled harder than the lighter portions. The earth stopped rotating about its north-south axis and began to act as a pendulum, rocking back and forth about a new axis of rotation.
Soon, the atmosphere responded to these forces, resulting in storms of unprecedented violence as the attractor drew Earth’s atmosphere away. Even as this caused earth’s inhabitants to gasp, the same forces that pulled at the air began to tear at their bodies. A grim race began to determine if Earth’s inhabitants would suffocate or be torn apart.
Clara was oblivious to this cataclysm. All she knew was that she was thirsty. The infant, if one can imagine a being eons old and larger than the universe could be called such, had picked up her bottle and began to suck at the nipple. The stars it contained warmed her throat as she drank.