Is the Universe One Big Hologram?

universe_nightsky“You know how I can tell we’re not in the Matrix?  If we were, the food would be better.” Thus spoke Sheldon Cooper, the socially-challenged nerd from The Big Bang Theory. And yet, there is actually a scientific theory that posits that the universe itself could be a 2D hologram that is painted on some kind of cosmological horizon and only pops into 3D whenever we observe it (aka. always).

And in what may be the most mind-boggling experiment ever, the US Department of Energy’s Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory (Fermilab) seeks to test this theory for the first time. Their tool for this is the Holometer, a device which has been under construction for a couple of years. It is now operating at full power and will gather data for the next year or so, at which time it will seek to uncover if the universe is a hologram, and what it’s composed of.

big_bangThe current prevailing theories about how the universe came to be are the Big Bang, the Standard Model of particle physics, quantum mechanics, and classical physics. These hypotheses and models don’t fully answer every question about how the universe came to be or continues to persist – which is why scientists are always investigating other ideas, such as supersymmetry or string theory.

The holographic universe principle is part of string theory – or at least not inconsistent with it – and goes something like this: From our zoomed out vantage point, the universe seems to be a perfectly formed enclave of 4D spacetime. But what happens if you keep zooming in, past the atomic and subatomic, until you get down to the smallest possible unit that can exist in the universe?

fermi_holometer-3In explaining their theory, the scientists involved make much of the analogy of moving closer to an old-style TV until you can see the individual pixels. The holographic principle suggests that, if you zoom in far enough, we will eventually see the pixels of the universe. It’s theorized that these universal pixels are about 10 trillion trillion times smaller than an atom (where things are measured in Planck units).

The Holometer at Fermilab, which on the hunt for these pixels of the universe, is essentially an incredibly accurate clock. It consists of a twin-laser interferometer, which – as the name suggests – extracts information from the universe by measuring interference to the laser beams. Each interferometer directs a one-kilowatt laser beam at a beam splitter and then down two 40-m (130-ft) arms located at right-angles to one another.

holometer-interferometer-diagramThese beams are then reflected back towards the source, where they are combined and analyzed for any traces of interference. As Craig Hogan, the developer of the holographic noise theory and a director at Fermilab, explained:

We want to find out whether space-time is a quantum system just like matter is. If we see something, it will completely change ideas about space we’ve used for thousands of years.

After any outside influences are removed, any remaining fluctuations – measured by slightly different frequencies or arrival times – could be caused by the ever-so-slight quantum jitter of these universal pixels. If these universal pixels exist, then everything we see, feel, and experience in the universe is actually encoded in these 2D pixels. One major difficulty in such a test will be noise – aka. “Holographic noise” – which they expect to be present at all frequencies.

fermi_holometerTo mitigate this, the Holometer is testing at frequencies of many megahertz so that motions contained in normal matter are claimed not to be a problem. The dominant background noise of radio wave interference will be the most difficult to filter out, according to the team. As Holometer lead scientist Aaron Chou explained:

If we find a noise we can’t get rid of, we might be detecting something fundamental about nature – a noise that is intrinsic to space-time.

This would have some serious repercussions. For a start, it would mean that spacetime itself is a quantum system, just like matter. The theory that the universe consists of matter and energy would be annulled, replaced with the concept that the universe is made of information encoded into these universal pixels, which in turn create the classical concepts of matter and energy.

fermi_holometer-1And of course, if the universe is just a 3D projection from a 2D cosmological horizon, where exactly is that cosmological horizon? And does this mean that everything we know and love is just a collection of quantum information carrying 2D bits? And perhaps most importantly (from our point of view at least) what does that make us? Is all life just a collection of pixels designed to entertain some capricious audience?

All good and, if you think about it, incredibly time-honored questions. For has it not been suggested by many renowned philosophies that life is a deception, and death an escape? And do not the Hindu, Buddhist and Abrahamic religions tells us that our material existence is basically a facade that conceals our true reality? And were the ancient religions not all based on the idea that man was turned loose in a hostile world for the entertainment of the gods?

Well, could be that illusion is being broadcast in ultra-high definition! And getting back to The Big Bang Theory, here’s Leonard explaining the hologram principle to Penny, complete with holograms:


Sources:
extremetech.com, gizmag.com

Evidence for the Big Bang

planck-attnotated-580x372The Big Bang Theory has been the dominant cosmological model for over half a century. According to the theory, the universe was created approximately 14 billion years ago from an extremely hot, dense state and then began expanding rapidly. After the initial expansion, the Universe cooled and began to form various subatomic particles and basic elements. Giant clouds of these primordial elements later coalesced through gravity to form stars, galaxies, and eventually planets.

And while it has its detractors, most of whom subscribe to the alternate Steady State Theory – which claims that new matter is continuously created as the universe expands – it has come to represent the scientific consensus as to how the universe came to be. And as usual, my ol’ pal and mentor in all things digital, Fraser Cain, recently released a video with the help of Universe Today discussing the particulars of it.

big_bangAddressing the particulars of the Big Bang Theory, Cain lists the many contributions made over the past century that has led this so-called theory to become the scientific consensus has come to exist. They are, in a nutshell:

  1. Cosmic Expanion: In 1912, astronomer Vesto Slipher calculated the speed and distance of “spiral nebulae” (galaxies) by measuring the light coming from them. He determined most were moving away. In 1924, Edwin Hubble determined that these galaxies were outside the Milky Way. He postulates that the motion of galaxies away from our own indicates a common point of origin.
  2. Abundance of Elements: Immediately after the big bang, only hydrogen existed and compressed into a tiny area of space under incredible heat and pressure. Like a star, this turned hydrogen into helium and other basic elements. Looking out into the universe (and hence back in time) scientists have found that great distances, the ratios of hydrogen to basic elements is consistent with what is found in star’s interiors.
  3. Cosmic Microwave Background (CMB) Radiation: In the 1960’s, using a radiotelescope, Arno Penzias and Robert Wilson discovered a background radio emission coming from every direction in the sky, day or night. This was consistent with the Big Bang Theory, which predicted that after the Big Bang, there would have been a release of radiation which then expanded billions of light years in all directions and cooled to the point that it shifted to invisible, microwave radiation.
  4. Large Scale Structure: The formation of galaxies and the large-scale structure of the cosmos are very similar. This is consistent with belief that after the initial Big Bang, the matter created would have cooled and began to coalesce into large collections, which is what galaxies, local galactic groups, and super-clusters are.

These are the four pillars of the Big Bang Theory, but they are no means the only points in its favor. In addition, there are numerous observational clues, such as how we have yet to observe a stars in the universe older than 13 billion years old, and fluctuations in the CMB that indicate a lack of uniformity. On top of that, there is the ongoing research into the existence of Dark Matter and Dark Energy, which are sure to bear fruit in the near future if all goes well.

big_bang1In short, scientists have a pretty good idea of how the universe came to be and the evidence all seems to confirm it. And some mysteries remain, we can be relatively confident that ongoing experimentation and research will come up with new and creative ways to shed light on the final unknowns. Little reason then why the Big Bang Theory enjoys such widespread support, much like Evolution, Gravity, and General Relativity.

Be sure to check out the full video, and subscribe to Universe Today for additional informative videos, podcasts, and articles. As someone who used to write for them, I can tell you that it’s a pretty good time, and very enlightening!

TBBT’s “Friendship Algorithm”

TBBT_frienship_algorithmRecall that hilarious episode of The Big Bang Theory where Sheldon designed the friendship algorithm? Well, like much of what they do, the hilarity comes with its share of educational value. In fact, half of what makes the show so funny is the way they weave scientific fact into the story and nerd out on it! For those who actually get it, it’s doubly entertaining.

In this case, Sheldon’s characteristic appraisal of his situation reflected something very real and relatable about algorithms. Essentially, they are step-by-step procedures designed to solve problems. While they pertain to calculation, data processing, and automated reasoning, the concept is something we are already intimately familiar with.

Literally everyone uses algorithms in everyday decision making, thinking things out in advance and taking things into consideration to come up with alternate plans and reach the desired outcome. Treating it like a computer program, as Sheldon does below, is just an excessively nerdy way of going about it! Enjoy the video recap:

News from Space: New Map of the Universe Confirms The Big Bang!

planckAfter 15 months of observing deep space, scientists with the European Space Agency Planck mission have generated a massive heat map of the entire universe.The “heat map”, as its called, looks at the oldest light in the universe and then uses the data to extrapolate the universe’s age, the amount of matter held within, and the rate of its expansion. And as usual, what they’ve found was simultaneously reassuring and startling.

When we look at the universe through a thermal imaging system, what we see is a mottled light show caused by cosmic background radiation. This radiation is essentially the afterglow of the Universe’s birth, and is generally seen to be smooth and uniform. This new map, however, provides a glimpse of the tiny temperature fluctuations that were imprinted on the sky when the Universe was just 370,000 years old.

big_bangSince it takes light so long to travel from one end of the universe to the other, scientists can tell – using red shift and other methods – how old the light is, and hence get a glimpse at what the universe looked like when the light was first emitted. For example, if a galaxy several billion light years away appears to be dwarfish and misshapen by our standards, it’s an indication that this is what galaxies looked like several billion years ago, when they were in the process of formation.

Hence, like archaeologists sifting through sand to find fossil records of what happened in the past, scientists believe this map reveals a sort of fossil imprint left by the state of the universe just 10 nano-nano-nano-nano seconds after the Big Bang. The splotches in the Planck map represent the seeds from which the stars and galaxies formed. As is heat-map tradition, the reds and oranges signify warmer temperatures of the universe, while light and dark blues signify cooler temperatures.universe

The cooler temperatures came about because those were spots where matter was once concentrated, but with the help of gravity, collapsed to form galaxies and stars. Using the map, astronomers discovered that there is more matter clogging up the universe than we previously thought, at around 31.7%, while there’s less dark energy floating around, at around 68.3%. This shift in matter to energy ratio also indicates that the universe is expanding slower than previously though, which requires an update on its estimated age.

All told, the universe is now believed to be a healthy 13.82 billion years old. That wrinkles my brain! And also of interest is the fact that this would appear to confirm the Big Bang Theory. Though widely considered to be scientific canon, there are those who dispute this creation model of the universe and argue more complex ideas, such as the “Steady State Theory” (otherwise known as the “Theory of Continuous Creation”).

24499main_MM_Image_Feature_49_rs4In this scenario, the majority of matter in the universe was not created in a single event, but gradually by several smaller ones. What’s more, the universe will not inevitable contract back in on itself, leading to a “Big Crunch”, but will instead continue to expand until all the stars have either died out or become black holes. As Krzysztof Gorski, a member of the Planck team with JPL, put it:

This is a treasury of scientific data. We are very excited with the results. We find an early universe that is considerably less rigged and more random than other, more complex models. We think they’ll be facing a dead-end.

Martin White, a Planck project scientist with the University of California, Berkeley and the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, explained further. According to White, the map shows how matter scattered throughout the universe with its associated gravity subtly bends and absorbs light, “making it wiggle to and fro.” As he went on to say:

The Planck map shows the impact of all matter back to the edge of the Universe. It’s not just a pretty picture. Our theories on how matter forms and how the Universe formed match spectacularly to this new data.

planck_satThe Planck space probe, which launched in 2009 from the Guiana Space Center in French Guiana, is a European Space Agency mission with significant contribution from NASA. The two-ton spacecraft gathers the ancient glow of the Universe’s beginning from a vantage more than a million and a half kilometers from Earth. This is not the first map produced by Planck; in 2010, it created an all-sky radiation map which scientists, using supercomputers, removed all interfering background light from to get a clear view at the deep background of the stars.

However, this is the first time any satellite has been able to picture the background radiation of the universe with such high resolution. The variation in light captured by Planck’s instruments was less than 1/100 millionth of a degree, requiring the most sensitive equipment and the contrast. So whereas cosmic radiation has appeared uniform or with only slight variations in the past, scientists are now able to see even the slightest changes, which is intrinsic to their work.planck-attnotated-580x372

So in summary, we have learned that the universe is a little older than previously expected, and that it most certainly was created in a single, chaotic event known as the Big Bang. Far from dispelling the greater mysteries, confirming these theories is really just the tip of the iceberg. There’s still the grandiose mystery of how all the fundamental laws such as gravity, nuclear forces and electromagnetism work together.

Ah, and let’s not forget the question of what transpires beneath the veil of an even horizon (aka. a Black Hole), and whether or not there is such a thing as a gateway in space and time. Finally, there’s the age old question of whether or not intelligent life exists somewhere out there, or life of any kind. But given the infinite number of stars, planets and possibilities that the universe provides, it almost surely does!

And I suppose there’s also that persistent nagging question we all wonder when we look up at the stars. Will we ever be able to get out there and take a closer look? I for one like to think so, and that it’s just a matter of time!

To boldly go!
To boldly go!

Sources: universetoday.com, (2), extremetech.com, bbc.co.uk

Introducing the “Bazinga” Bee!

big bang theory imagesWell, it seems that science and pop culture are coming together once again thanks to the hit show Big Bang Theory. Only this time, it seems things are flowing in the other direction, with scientists paying an homage to the show that has made being a geek cool in the eyes of so many. And it all began recently when a Brazilian biologist discovered a new species of bee that had been eluding scientists for years.

According to Andre Nemesio of the Universidade Federal de Uberlandia, this new species closely resembles the Euglossa ignita, a more common Western Brazilian orchid bee. Because of this, it remained unrecognized as a seperate species by biologists until very recently. In essence, the bee managed to trick scientists, which is why Nemesio decided to name it “Euglossa bazinga”, in honor of Sheldon Cooper.

In a recent paper, he explained his decision: “The specific epithet honors the clever, funny, captivating ‘nerd’ character Sheldon Cooper… Sheldon Cooper’s favorite comic word ‘bazinga,’ used by him when tricking somebody, was here chosen to represent the character. Euglossa bazinga sp. n. has tricked us for some time due to its similarity to E. ignita, what led us to use ‘bazinga.'”

In response, Steven Molaro – an executive producer of “The Big Bang Theory” – said “we are always extremely flattered when the science community embraces our show. Sheldon would be honored to know that Euglossa bazinga was inspired by him. In fact, after ‘Mothra’ and griffins, bees are his third-favorite flying creatures.”

Kudos Sheldon, you weird, annoying, but always entertaining and brilliantly acted nerd! I do hope they write this into the show, it would be comical to see his reaction to the news! And while we’re at it, here’s some of his greatest hits from over the years:


Source: news.cnet.com

What To Do For Halloween?

Talking about sexy Star Wars costumes got me thinking… Sure, all those ladies costumes were downright sexy, but they don’t ME a lot of good (not beyond staring at them for hours on end, anyway!) So I began to ask myself, what should I go as for Halloween this year? That past two years I’ve been doing this Wolverine costume, which was pretty boss the first year I unveiled it! I had a leather jacket, blue jeans and did some wood claws that I would hold between my fingers. The real challenge, however, was in sculpting my hair to look like Wolverine’s horned crown. Check it out:

This is me snarling and bearing my claws at the bar. And below is me threatening our friend Jerry as my sister-in-laws dog Dogie tries to intervene (such a good dog!)

However, the costume has gotten a little tired after two years in a row. So I was wondering… what to do this year? There are a couple possibilities, some tried and some entirely new. For instance, given my total non-shortage of tank tops and outdoor gear, I was thinking I could go as Riddick this year. Not a difficult costume to pull off; already got a set of goggles, and would just need to shave my head.

And speaking of shaving my head, that calls to mind another possible costume! Ever since TDKR came out, I’ve been dying to do a rendition of Bane. The Joker was a little labor intensive and really didn’t seem doable back when TDK came out. But this year, I think I just might be able to find everything I need to pull of this latest, brawny villain! I already got a line on where I could get a mask just like his, and for cheap too! The rest of the costume is pretty simple and can be slapped together from a vest, a tank and some work pants easily enough.

Of course, I know what people are thinking. “Matt, you couldn’t possibly pull of these guys, you don’t have the upper body musculature!” …You’ve got some attitude buster! Besides, it’s Halloween, and if girls can go out as totally sexualized versions of droids, nurses, vampires and werewolves, I can pull off Bane or Riddick. You just watch me!

Also, if anyone’s got any ideas for themselves, feel free to let me know what they are. I’m thinking I might like to do a post about some of the best themed costumes that people have ever pulled off. I’m mainly interested in outfits from fantasy and sci-fi, mainly because they are the most fun and hilarious! At least, that’s what Comic Con and the Big Bang Theory have taught me.

Big Bang Theory, Season Six

Man I love this show! Before it came around, scientific theories and geeking out weren’t considered mainstream at all. And for those who enjoy the show, the season 5 ender was quite the cliffhanger. The gang got together to give Howard and Bernadette a wedding before his big mission, Howard was seconds away from being launched into space, and everyone, including Sheldon and Amy, joined hands to wish him well. Touching, and also pretty hilarious!

Check out the promo for the Season 6 opener which promises to have more hijinks. Naturally, they open with a sci-fi reference, this one to Alien – “In Space No One Can Hear You Scream…” Just two weeks to go… man, they sure are taking their time on this one!