Monday, February 16, 2009

The universe

Martin Rees on mathematics:

String theory involves scales a billion billion times smaller than any we can directly probe. At the other extreme, our cosmological theories suggest that the universe is vastly more extensive than the patch we can observe with our telescopes. It may even be infinite. The domain that astronomers call "the universe" - the space, extending more than 10 billion light years around us and containing billions of galaxies, each with billions of stars, billions of planets (and maybe billions of biospheres) - could be an infinitesimal part of the totality.

There is a definite horizon to direct observations: a spherical shell around us, such that no light from beyond it has had time to reach us since the big bang. However, there is nothing physical about this horizon. If you were in the middle of an ocean, it is conceivable that the water ends just beyond your horizon - except that we know it doesn't. Likewise, there are reasons to suspect that our universe - the aftermath of our big bang - extends hugely further than we can see.

That is not all: our big bang may not be the only one. An idea called eternal inflation developed largely by Andrei Linde at Stanford University in Palo Alto, California, envisages big bangs popping off, endlessly, in an ever-expanding substratum. Or there could be other space-times alongside ours - all embedded in a higher-dimensional space. Ours could be but one universe in a multiverse.

No comments: