Eleanor Catton, of Ilam Primary School, asks :-

What's beyond the universe?

Frank Andrews, an astronomer at the Carter Observatory, Wellington, responded.

I don't think that a satisfactory answer to your question exists at the present time, even though scientists, philosophers and theologians often wonder about these things.

I suppose that a lot depends on what you mean by the word "universe". To many people the word "universe" means absolutely everything that exists or can exist. In other words whatever exists must be part of the universe. This includes all of space and time and what it contains or can contain. In this context, your question has no answer because the only things that can exist are, by definition, part of the universe.

The universe is thought to have come into existence about 16-18 thousand million years ago. Because the universe appears to be expanding, astronomers think that it all started with something which is called the "Big Bang". It is important to understand that the Big Bang not only created everything that is in the universe, but also created space and time. Because of this, asking what happened before the Big Bang or what is outside the universe is rather like asking what is 10 km south of the South Pole?

Because the universe in which we live is thought to have had a beginning, some scientists wonder if there could be other universes with their own space and time. If they could exist would they be the same as ours, or different? Would there be any way in which we could learn of their existence? If there are other universes, then perhaps we should think of a word which would describe all universes - a little while ago I saw that someone had suggested "omniverse".

As you see, you have asked a VERY DIFFICULT question, one to which no definite answer can yet be given. It's a question which scientists often wonder about and astronomers keep searching for even more distant galaxies. Perhaps one day you may be able to help find an answer!