Physicists find way to 'see' extra dimensionsFebruary 02, 2007
MADISON - Peering backward in time to an instant after the big bang, physicists at the University of Wisconsin-Madison have devised an approach that may help unlock the hidden shapes of alternate dimensions of the universe.
A new study demonstrates that the shapes of extra dimensions can be "seen" by deciphering their influence on cosmic energy released by the violent birth of the universe 13 billion years ago. The method, published today (Feb. 2) in Physical Review Letters, provides evidence that physicists can use experimental data to discern the nature of these elusive dimensions - the existence of which is a critical but as yet unproven element of string theory, the leading contender for a unified "theory of everything."
Scientists developed string theory, which proposes that everything in the universe is made of tiny, vibrating strings of energy, to encompass the physical principles of all objects from immense galaxies to subatomic particles. Though currently the front-runner to explain the framework of the cosmos, the theory remains, to date, untested.
The mathematics of string theory suggests that the world we know is not complete. In addition to our four familiar dimensions - three-dimensional space and time - string theory predicts the existence of six extra spatial dimensions, "hidden" dimensions curled in tiny geometric shapes at every single point in our universe.
Don't worry if you can't picture a 10-dimensional world. Our minds are accustomed to only three spatial dimensions and lack a frame of reference for the other six, says UW-Madison physicist Gary Shiu, who led the new study. Though scientists use computers to visualize what these six-dimensional geometries could look like (see image), no one really knows for sure what shape they take.
The new Wisconsin work may provide a long-sought foundation for measuring this previously immeasurable aspect of string theory.
According to string theory mathematics, the extra dimensions could adopt any of tens of thousands of possible shapes, each shape theoretically corresponding to its own universe with its own set of physical laws.
For our universe, "Nature picked one - and we want to know what that one looks like," explains Henry Tye, a physicist at Cornell University who was not involved in the new research.
Shiu says the many-dimensional shapes are far too small to see or measure through any usual means of observation, which makes testing this crucial aspect of string theory very difficult. "You can theorize anything, but you have to be able to show it with experiments," he says. "Now the problem is, how do we test it?"
He and graduate student Bret Underwood turned to the sky for inspiration.
Their approach is based on the idea that the six tiny dimensions had their strongest influence on the universe when it itself was a tiny speck of highly compressed matter and energy - that is, in the instant just after the big bang.
"Our idea was to go back in time and see what happened back then," says Shiu. "Of course, we couldn't really go back in time."
Lacking the requisite time machine, they used the next-best thing: a map of cosmic energy released from the big bang. The energy, captured by satellites such as NASA's Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe (WMAP), has persisted virtually unchanged for the last 13 billion years, making the energy map basically "a snapshot of the baby universe," Shiu says. The WMAP experiment is the successor to NASA's Cosmic Background Explorer (COBE) project, which garnered the 2006 Nobel Prize in physics.
Just as a shadow can give an idea of the shape of an object, the pattern of cosmic energy in the sky can give an indication of the shape of the other six dimensions present, Shiu explains.
To learn how to read telltale signs of the six-dimensional geometry from the cosmic map, they worked backward. Starting with two different types of mathematically simple geometries, called warped throats, they calculated the predicted energy map that would be seen in the universe described by each shape. When they compared the two maps, they found small but significant differences between them.
Their results show that specific patterns of cosmic energy can hold clues to the geometry of the six-dimensional shape - the first type of observable data to demonstrate such promise, says Tye.
Though the current data are not precise enough to compare their findings to our universe, upcoming experiments such as the European Space Agency's Planck satellite should have the sensitivity to detect subtle variations between different geometries, Shiu says.
"Our results with simple, well-understood shapes give proof of concept that the geometry of hidden dimensions can be deciphered from the pattern of cosmic energy," he says. "This provides a rare opportunity in which string theory can be tested."
Technological improvements to capture more detailed cosmic maps should help narrow down the possibilities and may allow scientists to crack the code of the cosmic energy map - and inch closer to identifying the single geometry that fits our universe.
The implications of such a possibility are profound, says Tye. "If this shape can be measured, it would also tell us that string theory is correct."
University of Wisconsin-Madison
Related Big Bang Articles:
A Dartmouth study finds that 'Big Food' companies are striving to make food more sustainable from farm to factory but have less power than you might think.
The Simons Observatory will be built in the Chilean Atacama desert for the purposes of studying primordial gravitational waves which originated in the first instants of the Big Bang.
Researchers find cost-effective solutions to sediment runoff and other land-based pollution affecting West Maui reefs
Astronomers at Lomonosov Moscow State University in cooperation with their French colleagues and with the help of citizen scientists have released 'The Reference Catalog of galaxy SEDs,' which contains value-added information about 800,000 galaxies.
Struggling to get your creative juices flowing for a new idea or project?
Do big-brained creatures steal energy for them from other organs or eat more to supply this expensive tissue?
Swansea University physicists working with an international collaborative team at CERN, conduct the first precision study of antihydrogen, the antimatter equivalent of hydrogen.
A multi-disciplinary team of researchers at UC Riverside has received $3 million from the National Science Foundation Research Traineeship program to prepare the next generation of scientists and engineers who will learn how to exploit the power of big data to understand insects.
A Griffith University physicist is challenging the conventional view of space and time to show how the world advances through time.
A team of physicists just received $2.1 million in funding for 2016-2017 from DOE's Advanced Scientific Computing Research program to enhance a 'workload management system' for handling the ever-increasing data demands of two experiments at the Large Hadron Collider and expanding its use as a general workload management service for a Department of Energy supercomputer.
Related Big Bang Reading:
Big Bang: The Origin of the Universe
by Simon Singh (Author)
A half century ago, a shocking Washington Post headline claimed that the world began in five cataclysmic minutes rather than having existed for all time; a skeptical scientist dubbed the maverick theory the Big Bang. In this amazingly comprehensible history of the universe, Simon Singh decodes the mystery behind the Big Bang theory, lading us through the development of one of the most extraordinary, important, and awe-inspiring theories in science.View Details
The Big Bang Theory 2018 Day-at-a-Time Box Calendar
by Trends International (Author)
Get your learned laughs from Sheldon, Leonard, Penny, and the gang from The Big Bang Theory with these shots of your favorite scenes from the show. Nothing's off-limits when our heroes tackle another day sorely lacking in social skills in this conveniently sized 2018 The Big Bang Theory Mini Calendar printed on paper certified by the Forest Stewardship Council. Perfect for places with limited wall space, like Sheldon's white board. Sixteen months (Sep 2017Dec 2018). View Details
Genesis and the Big Bang: The Discovery Of Harmony Between Modern Science And The Bible
by Gerald Schroeder (Author)
In this groundbreaking book, physicist Gerald Schroeder takes on skeptics from both sides of the cosmological debate, arguing that science and the Bible are not at odds concerning the origin of the universe. View Details
2018 The Big Bang Theory Wall Calendar (Day Dream)
by Day Dream (Author)
Spend the year with your favorite geniuses…. and friends, including Sheldon, Leonard, Howard, Raj, Penny, Amy, and Bernadette. View Details
The Big History Timeline Wallbook: Unfold the History of the Universe―from the Big Bang to the Present Day!
by Christopher Lloyd (Author), Andy Forshaw (Illustrator)
IMAGINE TAKING a trip through the history of everything from the beginning of the universe to the present day! Created in association with the American Museum of Natural History, this unique 'big history' wallbook includes a 6-foot fold-out timeline containing more than 1,000 pictures and captions that tell the story of the history of the world. The timeline is divided into 12 sections covering both natural history as well as the history of human civilizations in each of the world's continents so you can easily compare what was happening across the world at any given moment in time.... View Details
The Big Bang Theory: The Official Trivia Guide
by Adam Faberman (Author)
This completely authorized Big Bang Theory trivia and quiz book is filled with questions from every season, photos, hilarious quotes, and more, including excerpts from the Roommate Agreement and your chance to play ‘Emily or Cinnamon.’ It’s sure to provide hours of fun and test the knowledge of even the most dedicated fan.
The Big Bang Theory is one of the most popular sitcoms in the world and the funniest show on TV. It is beloved by critics and audiences alike for its quick wit, incredibly geeky but relatable characters, and its science and science fiction... View Details
The Big Bang Theory Mad Libs
by Laura Marchesani (Author)
If you like science, Star Trek, comic books, and laughing, you'll love playing The Big Bang Theory Mad Libs! Featuring 21 stories based on the hit show, this collection of Mad Libs is sure to entertain the whole family. View Details
George and the Big Bang (George's Secret Key)
by Stephen Hawking (Author), Lucy Hawking (Author), Garry Parsons (Illustrator)
Explore how the universe began—and thwart evil along the way—in this cosmic adventure from Stephen and Lucy Hawking that includes a graphic novel.
George has problems. He has twin baby sisters at home who demand his parents’ attention. His beloved pig Freddy has been exiled to a farm, where he’s miserable. And worst of all, his best friend, Annie, has made a new friend whom she seems to like more than George. So George jumps at the chance to help Eric with his plans to run a big experiment in Switzerland that seeks to explore the earliest moment of the universe. But... View Details
The Bitcoin Big Bang: How Alternative Currencies Are About to Change the World
by Brian Kelly (Author)
Get a handle on the digital currency revolution, and learn how to get on board
The Bitcoin Big Bang is a guide to navigating the uncharted territory of digital currency. Written by CNBC contributor Brian Kelly, this book goes beyond Bitcoin 101 to explain how this transformative technology is about to change the world. Digital currency is thrown into perspective against the history of payment systems and its own evolution, as readers are invited to explore the ways in which this technology is already changing the way business gets done. Readers gain insight into the... View Details
Bang!: How We Came to Be
by Michael Rubino (Author)
"Bang! And that was it, the beginning of everything."
So begins this beautifully illustrated, panoramic story of evolution. Author and illustrator Michael Rubino conveys not only the facts but also the excitement of the scientific explanation of our world, from the origin of the universe in the big bang to the present reality of our planet, teeming with life but threatened by overpopulation and pollution.
Parents looking for an easy-to-understand guide to the scientific worldview for their children will find the perfect source here. The formation of stars and galaxies; the... View Details