At a press conference today, NASA announced new measurements from the Chandra X-Ray Observatory confirm the existence of "dark energy" that is causing the universe to expand - and disintegrate - at a rapid clip.

Dark energy is a theory among astrophysicists that there is a force pulling galaxies apart - a force that that is accelerating, and will eventually lead to the destruction of every molecule in the universe. The theory first came about roughly a decade ago to explain why distant galaxies are moving away from our own more rapidly than ones that are close by. According to Live Science's Jeanna Bryner:

New measurements of this accelerating expansion . . . provide details about the nature of the unseen and unknown dark energy that is at work.

The results, announced today at a news conference organized by NASA, reveal a decrease in the mass of galaxy clusters in more recent times, which would be a consequence of this hastening and ripping force that some think could eventually tear apart even star systems, planets and eventually the very molecules we're made of.

"If there were any doubts 10 years after the initial discovery that the universe was speeding up, this should really dispel them," said Michael Turner of the University of Chicago's Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics, who was not involved in the current study.

What does this mean? In a few billion years, we won't be able to see any galaxies in the space around us. And, perhaps, it means the death of the universe will be a lonely business indeed.


More images and a complete report at LiveScience.