Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

Open and closed universe

  1. May 30, 2008 #1

    I'm not sur if this is the right section. Please could a mod move it if it isn't.

    I've only just got into physics and so i don't want anything tooo complicated

    Could someone please explain the difference between an open and closed univers


  2. jcsd
  3. May 30, 2008 #2


    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member

    The expansion of the universe is governed by an equation called the Friedmann equation. It is given below:

    [tex] \left(\frac{\dot{a}}{a}\right)^2 = \frac{8\pi G \rho}{3} - \frac{kc^2}{a^2} [/tex]

    The final term with the constant k measures the curvature of space. If [itex] k > 0 [/itex] then we have what is called a spherical geometry and the universe is closed. If [itex] k < 0 [/itex] we have a hyperbolic geometry and the universe is open. The spherical case is called closed because a universe with this geometry must be finite. Hyperbolic geometry in a universe however would mean it would be infinite and thus open. There is a special case where [itex] k = 0[/itex] which gives us a flat Euclidean geometry. The universe would be infinite in this case as well. At present cosmologists are pretty sure [itex]k=0[/itex]. Of course the universe could have a non-trivial topology in which case things would get a bit more complicated.
    Last edited: May 30, 2008
  4. May 30, 2008 #3
    Ok so a closed universe is when k(which measures the curvature of space) is greater than 0. And having a spherical Geometry means what? That the universe is a sphere? And that the universe is finite

    And an open universe is when k(which measures the curvature of space) is less than 0. And then we'd have a hyperbolic geometry. What is a hyperbolic geometry? And an open universe is infinite.

    What does a flat Eucildean geometry mean?

    How is the curvature of space(k) measured?

    In that Friedman equation what does the a stand for? And what does the Gp stand for?

    If the universe is infinite will it ever stop expanding. I struggle to get my head around a universe being infinite.

    Hey thanks so much for the help

  5. May 30, 2008 #4


    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member

    Well lets first consider a flat Euclidean geometry. You are probably familiar with it since you learn it in school at an early age. It is the geometry in which triangles have internal angles that add to 180° and the circumference of a circle is [itex] 2\pi r[/itex].

    In spherical geometry the internal angles of a triangle are greater than 180° and the circumference of a circle is less than [itex]2\pi r[/itex]. This corresponds to geometry on the surface of a sphere and hence the name. The main consequence of this type of geometry is that the universe will be finite.

    In hyperbolic geometry the internal angles of a triangle will be less than 180° and the circumference of a circle will be greater than [itex]2\pi r[/itex]. This is harder to visualise but is usually described as a saddle surface. A universe with hyperbolic geometry is infinite.

    [itex]a[/itex] is the scale factor of the universe and it measures the expansion rate. [itex] G [/itex] is just the universal gravitational constant and [itex]\rho[/itex] is the density of material in the universe. There is a library entry on the Friedmann equation but it hasn't auto linked for some reason.


    As for evidence for [itex]k[/itex] it mainly comes from measurements of the cosmic microwave background. Someone else will have to take over from there. :tongue:
  6. May 30, 2008 #5
    So if the universe is closed and has spherical geometry does that mean that the universe is shaped like a sphere? And if i had a big spaceship and set of in one direction i would eventually get back to my starting point (probably after a long time)

    I went to a lecture with my school a while ago and the guy doing the lecture showed us a diagram of the universe and said many scientists belived it to be "bell shaped". Which type of universe would that be?

    If like you say many scientists belive that k=o and that the universe has a flat Euclidean geometry. Would'nt that mean that the universe was 2D?

    Slightly unrelated but hwo do you say "Euclidean"? Is it (you-kle-dean)?
  7. May 30, 2008 #6
    I've just a look on Google and found this picture, would I be correct in saying that [itex]\Omega[/itex] in this case of the same as the [itex]k[/itex] you have been referring to? The diagram below gives you a good visual concept of what is happening, I know I sometimes find things hard to work out if I don't have a visual idea. :bugeye:


    Geometry of the Universe
  8. May 30, 2008 #7


    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member

    This is where the conceptual difficulties come in. A sphere is 2D analogy of a positive curvature. Our universe is 3D but would have an intrinsic curvature.

    I think what the guy at your lecture was referring to is the shape of the observable universe which traces the past light cone back to the big bang. The bell shape occurs because of the inflationary period where the universe expanded very rapidly.

    The universe would not be 2D if k=0. All that would mean is 3D space has no intrinsic curvature.

    There is a pronunciation guide on this page.


    Mayday, [itex] \Omega [/itex] is the density parameter and [itex]\Omega =1[/itex] is the same as k = 0.

    remember those pictures are just 2D analogies.
  9. May 30, 2008 #8
    What is closed is 4 dimensional spacetime, spacetime is "curved up" like a sphere.
  10. May 31, 2008 #9
    Thanks for clearing that up kurdt, mejennifer and _Mayday_
  11. May 31, 2008 #10
    How can an infinite universe expand? By infinite do we mean infinite in size?
Know someone interested in this topic? Share this thread via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook

Have something to add?

Similar Discussions: Open and closed universe
  1. Closed universe? (Replies: 4)