Archive for the ‘universe’ Category

by Paul Ratner

An international study claims to have found first observed evidence that our universe is a hologram.

What is the holographic universe idea? It’s not exactly that we are living in some kind of Star Trekky computer simulation. Rather the idea, first proposed in the 1990s by Leonard Susskind and Gerard ‘t Hooft, says that all the information in our 3-dimensional reality may actually be included in the 2-dimensional surface of its boundaries. It’s like watching a 3D show on a 2D television.

“Imagine that everything you see, feel and hear in three dimensions (and your perception of time) in fact emanates from a flat two-dimensional field. The idea is similar to that of ordinary holograms where a three-dimensional image is encoded in a two-dimensional surface, such as in the hologram on a credit card. However, this time, the entire universe is encoded,“ explained the study’s co-author Professor Kostas Skenderis of Mathematical Sciences at the University of Southampton.

The new study involved a team of theoretical physicists and astrophysicists from the U.K., Canada and Italy who studied the cosmic microwave background and discovered enough irregularities there that pointed to the holographic theory as a legitimate rival to the theory of cosmic inflation, the way these anomalies are usually explained.

The new analysis by the scientists was made possible by the advancement of telescope and sensing tech that can look for information in the “white noise” or microwaves that remain from the early universe right after the Big Bang.

By studying and mapping data from the Planck space telescope, the team found that the observational data they found was largely predictable by the math of holographic theory.

“Holography is a huge leap forward in the way we think about the structure and creation of the universe. Einstein’s theory of general relativity explains almost everything large scale in the universe very well, but starts to unravel when examining its origins and mechanisms at quantum level. Scientists have been working for decades to combine Einstein’s theory of gravity and quantum theory. Some believe the concept of a holographic universe has the potential to reconcile the two. I hope our research takes us another step towards this,” added Professor Skenderis.


A sketch of the timeline of the holographic Universe where time runs from left to right. The holographic phase (far left) is where the image is blurry because space and time haven’t been defined yet. After this phase comes to a close, the Universe goes into a geometric phase, which can be described by Einstein’s equations. Credit: Paul McFadden

The implications of this study could lead the scientists to improved understanding of how time and space were created.

“When we go into this concept of holography, it’s a new way of thinking about things. Even the scientists who worked on this for the past 20 years don’t have the right tools or the right language to describe what’s going on,” said Skenderis. “It’s a new paradigm for a physical reality.”

The study’s lead author, Niayesh Afshordi of the Perimeter Institute and the University of Waterlo, expressed a similarly positive sentiment about their finding:

“I would argue this is the simplest theory of the early universe. And so far, this is as simple as it gets. And it could help explain everything we see,” Afshordi said.

You can read the paper by the researchers, from the University of Southampton (UK), University of Waterloo (Canada), Perimeter Institute (Canada), INFN, Lecce (Italy) and the University of Salento (Italy) here in the journal Physical Review Letters: http://journals.aps.org/prl/abstract/10.1103/PhysRevLett.118.041301

http://bigthink.com/paul-ratner/scientists-find-first-observed-evidence-that-our-universe-may-be-a-hologram

While investigators are stumped over the fate of missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370, the lack of evidence as to what happened hasn’t stopped speculation as to the fate of the missing jet and its 239 passengers and crew members.

It’s not unusual for mysterious or dramatic aviation accidents to catch the imaginations of the conspiratorially inclined – the Korean Air Lines Flight 007, Pan Am Flight 103, and TWA Flight 800 tragedies spurred all kinds of claims of conspiracy, and last week’s apparent tragedy in the Gulf of Thailand is no different.

Conspiracy theorists took to social media this week to contribute their own ideas as to why Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 disappeared.

1. Aliens are involved: Alexandra Bruce at ForbiddenKnowledgeTV points to records on the flight mapping website Flightradar24 as evidence of extra-terrestrial meddling. She goes so far as to say the “captured signals” could “only be termed a UFO.”

Her source? YouTube user DAHBOO77, who posted a video that attempts to recreate the plane’s last moments. The clip shows a quick-moving plane and other strange anomalies around the time of the MH370’s disappearance from radar.

Loading the logs directly on the site allows readers to easily click and identify the so-called “UFO,” which is clearly marked as Korean Airlines Flight 672. Its apparent supersonic speed is likely related to a glitch in the system, not alien intervention, according to the site’s CEO Mikael Robertsson.

“[Some] receivers do not provide the same data quality, so sometimes parts of the data can be corrupt [and] generate errors like the one you see on the video,” he explained. “For example if Longitude received is 120 instead of 110, that would generate such error.”

2. The passengers are still alive: Families awaiting news about lost loved ones have told reporters they are able to call the cell phones of their missing relatives, and have said they can also see their instant messaging service accounts remain active online.

The news has fueled all kinds of speculation, but phones that are turned off do not always necessarily go straight to voicemail. Factors such as location, the phone’s network type and its proximity to a cell phone tower can all affect whether a dead phone will still ring on the caller’s end.

You can test this for yourself: turn off your cell phone, remove the battery and call your number on another line – most kinds of phones will still ring before you reach voicemail.

3. There’s a Snowden connection: Reddit user Dark_Spectre posted an unusual theory on the website’s conspiracy boards, related to 20 employees of the Texas-based Freescale Semiconductor who were reportedly on the flight:

“So we have the American IBM Technical Storage Executive for Malaysia, a man working in mass storage aggregation for the company implicated by the Snowden papers for providing their services to assist the National Security Agency in surveilling the Chinese.. And now this bunch of US chip guys working for a global leader in embedded processing solutions (embedded smart phone tech and defense contracting) all together..on a plane..And disappeared.. Coincidence??”

Dark_Spectre goes as far as to suggest those chip experts may have been kidnapped by Chinese or American authorities:

“Perhaps a little fast and furious dive under the radar to a flat water landing to rendezvous with a Chinese ship or sub for transport to a black-site for advanced interrogation, scuttling the plane along with the remaining passengers.(any oceanic trenches in fuel capacity distance?) What would 200 lives be to the Chinese intelligence community for the chance to find out ‘exactly’ the depth and scope of our intrusion.”

“US intelligence got late wind that their flying brain-trust of 21 were going to be arrested/detained and interrogated upon landing in China and the US intelligence community deemed the risk too great to their Asian based espionage programs and took appropriate action to “sanitize” the plane in flight.”

So far, there is no evidence of an explosion.

4. Iranians kidnapped engineers: UFO Digest’s Tony Elliott points to revelations that an Iranian national was responsible for buying plane tickets for two passengers with stolen passports as evidence that the country was involved, possibly to extract technological intelligence from Freescale Semiconductor employees.

“If the plane is not found in the next few days, or ever, we must assume the plane was hijacked and taken to a nearby country where that government wants to keep the disappearance a secret,” he wrote. “If this is the case, the two passengers with stolen passports must be the hijackers.”

Elliott concludes that the plane is in East Timor, due to an apparent u-turn made by the plane in its final moments on radar.

“If the Iranian government wanted to hijack the plane, it would have had its hijackers make an abrupt turn and head to the nearest friendly Muslim country,” he wrote. “In this case, it would be East Timor, the most likely country, located in the opposite direction from the flight path.”

The theory doesn’t address why the plane suddenly disappeared from radar entirely – no passenger plane could drop from 36,000 feet to below radar horizon in mere seconds.

5. Passengers were taken to Pyongyang: This map is slightly deceptive – while the trip to both Beijing and Pyongyang appear equidistant, this theory would require the plane fly at extremely low altitudes to avoid radar detection, which – due to greater air density at lower altitudes – would require more fuel to travel the same distance.

6. The Illuminati is involved: “Was looking at the Wikipedia page for the missing Malaysia Airlines, and noticed that it’s was [sic] the 404th 777 Boeing produced,” Redditor i-am-SHER-locked wrote.

“An HTTP 404 error mean [sic] not found, which in this case is oddly approiate [sic] for the status of the aircraft, or just a concidence [sic]. Coincidence, i think not!”

7. There’s a new Bermuda triangle: Though the Bermuda Triangle’s status as one of the sea’s most mysteriously treacherous zones has been debunked for decades, it doesn’t stop some from seeing triangles in the Gulf of Thailand.

8. The plane is in Vietnam, where it is waiting to be used as a weapon: “Conspiracy and prophecy in the news” blogger ShantiUniverse said she has three possible theories about what happened to Flight MH370: A major mechanical error (OK), a terrorist attack (reasonable) or it was whisked away to a secret Vietnamese airport to be used in a later 9/11 style attack (…).

“Flight 370 was last contacted by another unnamed pilot 10 minutes after losing initial contact,” she writes. “He claims the plane was deep into Vietnam airspace. Its [sic] possible it was hijacked and forced to land at another airport, where passengers are being held hostage. There is a long list of former airports and proposed airports in Vietnam. Its also possible since the plane had no contact, it could of [sic] managed to get to Cambodia to a former or proposed airport…Why would terrorist want a plane intact? Though this is highly unlikely, but not impossible, the only reason I can think of is they would want the plane to use as a weapon of mass destruction like on the September 11 attacks.”

9: There was some kind of miniature hydrogen bomb controlled by an iPhone app and it created a miniature black hole: It’s hard to tell whether @Angela_Stalcup’s account is the work of a completely unhinged lunatic or a genius, masterful troll. Wading through claims that Donald Trump runs a prostitution ring through Trump University or that Russian President Vladimir Putin is one of 92 clones of Adolf Hitler, you may stumble upon this gem of a theory about Flight MH370:

10. Terrorists employed a new electromagnetic pulse weapon: Such a device snuck on board and activated would cause the plane to instantly lose power and fall into the ocean. Had this been a test run, terrorists in possession of such a device would now know that it works, and we could expect to see a multitude of such attacks in the future, perhaps in multiple planes simultaneously. This, of course, has been challenged by conflicting reports of persistent electronic communication from the plane after its disappearance.

So what really happened?: The truth is, no one really knows. The AP now cites a senior Malaysian military official who reports the country has radar data detecting the plane in the Malacca Strait – hundreds of miles from the last position recorded by civilian authorities.

*Armchair conspiracy theorists have also speculated (on Twitter, of course) that the passengers on flight 370 have landed on a remote, impossible-to-find island a la “Lost.”

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By Michael Finkel
for National Geographic

Published February 18, 2014

Let’s rewind the clock. Before humans existed, before Earth formed, before the sun ignited, before galaxies arose, before light could even shine, there was the Big Bang. This happened 13.8 billion years ago.

But what about before that? Many physicists say there is no before that. Time began ticking, they insist, at the instant of the Big Bang, and pondering anything earlier isn’t in the realm of science. We’ll never understand what pre-Big Bang reality was like, or what it was formed of, or why it exploded to create our universe. Such notions are beyond human understanding.

But a few unconventional scientists disagree. These physicists theorize that, a moment before the Big Bang, all the mass and energy of the nascent universe was compacted into an incredibly dense—yet finite—speck. Let’s call it the seed of a new universe.

This seed is thought to have been almost unimaginably tiny, possibly trillions of times smaller than any particle humans have been able to observe. And yet it’s a particle that can spark the production of every other particle, not to mention every galaxy, solar system, planet, and person.

If you really want to call something the God particle, this seed seems an ideal fit.

So how is such a seed created? One idea, bandied about for several years—notably by Nikodem Poplawski of the University of New Haven—is that the seed of our universe was forged in the ultimate kiln, likely the most extreme environment in all of nature: inside a black hole.

It’s important to know, before we go further, that over the last couple of decades, many theoretical physicists have come to believe that our universe is not the only one. Instead, we may be part of the multiverse, an immense array of separate universes, each its own shining orb in the true night sky.

How, or even if, one universe is linked to another is a source of much debate, all of it highly speculative and, as of now, completely unprovable. But one compelling idea is that the seed of a universe is similar to the seed of a plant: It’s a chunk of essential material, tightly compressed, hidden inside a protective shell.

This precisely describes what is created inside a black hole. Black holes are the corpses of giant stars. When such a star runs out of fuel, its core collapses inward. Gravity pulls everything into an increasingly fierce grip. Temperatures reach 100 billion degrees. Atoms are smashed. Electrons are shredded. Those pieces are further crumpled.

The star, by this point, has turned into a black hole, which means that its gravitational pull is so severe that not even a beam of light can escape. The boundary between the interior and exterior of a black hole is called the event horizon. Enormous black holes, some of them millions of times more massive than the sun, have been discovered at the center of nearly every galaxy, including our own Milky Way.

If you use Einstein’s theories to determine what occurs at the bottom of a black hole, you’ll calculate a spot that is infinitely dense and infinitely small: a hypothetical concept called a singularity. But infinities aren’t typically found in nature. The disconnect lies with Einstein’s theories, which provide wonderful calculations for most of the cosmos, but tend to break down in the face of enormous forces, such as those inside a black hole—or present at the birth of our universe.

Physicists like Dr. Poplawski say that the matter inside a black hole does reach a point where it can be crushed no further. This “seed” might be incredibly tiny, with the weight of a billion suns, but unlike a singularity, it is real.

The compacting process halts, according to Dr. Poplawski, because black holes spin. They spin extremely rapidly, possibly close to the speed of light. And this spin endows the compacted seed with a huge amount of torsion. It’s not just small and heavy; it’s also twisted and compressed, like one of those jokey spring-loaded snakes in a can.

Which can suddenly unspring, with a bang. Make that a Big Bang—or what Dr. Poplawski prefers to call “the big bounce.”

It’s possible, in other words, that a black hole is a conduit—a “one-way door,” says Dr. Poplawski—between two universes. This means that if you tumble into the black hole at the center of the Milky Way, it’s conceivable that you (or at least the shredded particles that were once you) will end up in another universe. This other universe isn’t inside ours, adds Dr. Poplawski; the hole is merely the link, like a shared root that connects two aspen trees.

And what about all of us, here in our own universe? We might be the product of another, older universe. Call it our mother universe. The seed this mother universe forged inside a black hole may have had its big bounce 13.8 billion years ago, and even though our universe has been rapidly expanding ever since, we could still be hidden behind a black hole’s event horizon.

http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2014/02/140218-black-hole-blast-explains-big-bang/

UniverseMath_m_0131

By Tanya Lewis, LiveScience

Scientists have long used mathematics to describe the physical properties of the universe. But what if the universe itself is math? That’s what cosmologist Max Tegmark believes.

In Tegmark’s view, everything in the universe — humans included — is part of a mathematical structure. All matter is made up of particles, which have properties such as charge and spin, but these properties are purely mathematical, he says. And space itself has properties such as dimensions, but is still ultimately a mathematical structure.

“If you accept the idea that both space itself, and all the stuff in space, have no properties at all except mathematical properties,” then the idea that everything is mathematical “starts to sound a little bit less insane,” Tegmark said in a talk given Jan. 15 here at The Bell House. The talk was based on his book “Our Mathematical Universe: My Quest for the Ultimate Nature of Reality” (Knopf, 2014).

“If my idea is wrong, physics is ultimately doomed,” Tegmark said. But if the universe really is mathematics, he added, “There’s nothing we can’t, in principle, understand.”

The idea follows the observation that nature is full of patterns, such as the Fibonacci sequence, a series of numbers in which each number is the sum of the previous two numbers. The flowering of an artichoke follows this sequence, for example, with the distance between each petal and the next matching the ratio of the numbers in the sequence.

The nonliving world also behaves in a mathematical way. If you throw a baseball in the air, it follows a roughly parabolic trajectory. Planets and other astrophysical bodies follow elliptical orbits.

“There’s an elegant simplicity and beauty in nature revealed by mathematical patterns and shapes, which our minds have been able to figure out,” said Tegmark, who loves math so much he has framed pictures of famous equations in his living room.

One consequence of the mathematical nature of the universe is that scientists could in theory predict every observation or measurement in physics. Tegmark pointed out that mathematics predicted the existence of the planet Neptune, radio waves and the Higgs boson particle thought to explain how other particles get their mass.

Some people argue that math is just a tool invented by scientists to explain the natural world. But Tegmark contends the mathematical structure found in the natural world shows that math exists in reality, not just in the human mind.

And speaking of the human mind, could we use math to explain the brain?

Some have described the human brain as the most complex structure in the universe. Indeed, the human mind has made possible all of the great leaps in understanding our world.

Someday, Tegmark said, scientists will probably be able to describe even consciousness using math. (Carl Sagan is quoted as having said, “the brain is a very big place, in a very small space.”)

“Consciousness is probably the way information feels when it’s being processed in certain, very complicated ways,” Tegmark said. He pointed out that many great breakthroughs in physics have involved unifying two things once thought to be separate: energy and matter, space and time, electricity and magnetism. He said he suspects the mind, which is the feeling of a conscious self, will ultimately be unified with the body, which is a collection of moving particles.

But if the brain is just math, does that mean free will doesn’t exist, because the movements of particles could be calculated using equations? Not necessarily, he said.

One way to think of it is, if a computer tried to simulate what a person will do, the computation would take at least the same amount of time as performing the action. So some people have suggested defining free will as an inability to predict what one is going to do before the event occurs.

But that doesn’t mean humans are powerless. Tegmark concluded his talk with a call to action: “Humans have the power not only to understand our world, but to shape and improve it.”

http://www.mnn.com/earth-matters/space/stories/whats-the-universe-made-of-math

plane_2781441b

By Jasper Copping

An airline pilot has reported a near miss in which a “rugby ball”-shaped UFO passed within a few feet of his passenger jet while flying near Heathrow Airport.

The captain told the aviation authorities who have investigated the incident that he was certain the object was going to crash into his aircraft and ducked as it headed towards him.

The investigation has been unable to establish any earthly identity for the mysterious craft, which left the aircrew with no time to take evasive action.

The incident occurred while the A320 Airbus was cruising at 34,000ft, around 20 miles west of the airport, over the Berkshire countryside.

The captain spotted the object travelling towards the jet out of a left hand side, cockpit window, apparently heading directly for it.

A report into the incident states: “He was under the apprehension that they were on collision course with no time to react. His immediate reaction was to duck to the right and reach over to alert the FO (First Officer); there was no time to talk to alert him.”

It adds: “The Captain was fully expecting to experience some kind of impact with a conflicting aircraft.”

He told investigators he believes the object passes “within a few feet” above the jet.

He described it as being “cigar/rugby ball like” in shape, bright silver and apparently “metallic” in construction.

Once he had composed himself, he checked the aircraft’s instruments and contacted air traffic controllers to report the incident. However, there was no sign of the mystery craft.

The incident was investigated by the UK Airprox Board, which studies “near misses” involving aircraft in British airspace.

It checked data recordings to establish what other aircraft were in the area at the time, but eliminated them all from its quest to find out what had been responsible. It also ruled out meteorological balloons, after checking none were released in the vicinity. Toy balloons were also discounted, as they are not large enough to reach such heights. Military radar operators were also contacted but were unable to trace the reported object.

The sighting occurred in daylight, at around. 6.35pm on July 13. It has only emerged now, following publication of the report, which concluded it was “not possible to trace the object or determine the likely cause of the sighting”.

The report does not name the airline or flight involved. Even though it describes the aircraft as being “just to the west of Heathrow”, aviation experts believe that at such an altitude it would be unlikely to have taken off from, or be preparing to land at, the west London airport.

Instead, the A320, which is popular with many carriers, among them British Airways and Virgin, is likely to have been travelling between a regional airport elsewhere in the UK, and another on the Continent. The aircraft typically carry about 150 passengers.

The Ministry of Defence closed its UFO desk in December 2009, along with its hotline for reporting such sightings. Following that change, the Civil Aviation Authority took the decision that it would continue to look into such reports, from aircrew and air traffic controllers, because they could have implications for “flight safety”.

In 2012, the head of the National Air Traffic Control Services admitted staff detected around one unexplained flying object every month.

Dr David Clarke, a Sheffield Hallam academic and the UFO consultant for the National Archives, said: “The aviation authorities obviously think this is something they should continue to look into and if you are a regular air traveller, you are likely to agree.”

Dr Clarke, a sceptic on UFO issues, said: “This latest sighting is interesting, because it is detailed and clear. These pilots don’t file these reports for something and nothing. There was obviously something there.”

Chris Yates, an aviation consultant, said: “Although we assume when these things happen, a UFO is responsible, there is usually an explanation that materialises at some point.”

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/newstopics/howaboutthat/ufo/10551201/Jet-in-near-miss-with-UFO.html

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1_14328

At a black hole, Albert Einstein’s theory of gravity apparently clashes with quantum physics, but that conflict could be solved if the Universe were a holographic projection.

A team of physicists have provided what has been described by the journal Nature as the “clearest evidence yet” that our universe is a hologram.

The new research could help reconcile one of modern physics’ most enduring problems : the apparent inconsistencies between the different models of the universe as explained by quantum physics and Einstein’s theory of gravity.

The two new scientific papers are the culmination of years’ work led by Yoshifumi Hyakutake of Ibaraki University in Japan, and deal with hypothetical calculations of the energies of black holes in different universes.

The idea of the universe existing as a ‘hologram’ doesn’t refer to a Matrix-like illusion, but the theory that the three dimensions we perceive are actually just “painted” onto the cosmological horizon – the boundary of the known universe.

If this sounds paradoxical, try to imagine a holographic picture that changes as you move it. Although the picture is two dimensional, observing it from different locations creates the illusion that it is 3D.

This model of the universe helps explain some inconsistencies between general relativity (Einstein’s theory) and quantum physics. Although Einstein’s work underpins much of modern physics, at certain extremes (such as in the middle of a black hole) the principles he outlined break down and the laws of quantum physics take over.

The traditional method of reconciling these two models has come from the 1997 work of theoretical physicist Juan Maldacena, whose ideas built upon string theory. This is one of the most well respected ‘theories of everything’ (Stephen Hawking is a fan) and it posits that one-dimensional vibrating objects known as ‘strings’ are the elementary particles of the universe.

Maldacena has welcomed the new research by Hyakutake and his team, telling the journal Nature that the findings are “an interesting way to test many ideas in quantum gravity and string theory.”

Leonard Susskind, a theoretical physicist regarded as one of the fathers of string theory, added that the work by the Japanese team “numerically confirmed, perhaps for the first time, something we were fairly sure had to be true, but was still a conjecture.”

Here is the original press release from Nature:

A team of physicists has provided some of the clearest evidence yet that our Universe could be just one big projection.

In 1997, theoretical physicist Juan Maldacena proposed1 that an audacious model of the Universe in which gravity arises from infinitesimally thin, vibrating strings could be reinterpreted in terms of well-established physics. The mathematically intricate world of strings, which exist in nine dimensions of space plus one of time, would be merely a hologram: the real action would play out in a simpler, flatter cosmos where there is no gravity.

Maldacena’s idea thrilled physicists because it offered a way to put the popular but still unproven theory of strings on solid footing — and because it solved apparent inconsistencies between quantum physics and Einstein’s theory of gravity. It provided physicists with a mathematical Rosetta stone, a ‘duality’, that allowed them to translate back and forth between the two languages, and solve problems in one model that seemed intractable in the other and vice versa. But although the validity of Maldacena’s ideas has pretty much been taken for granted ever since, a rigorous proof has been elusive.

In two papers posted on the arXiv repository, Yoshifumi Hyakutake of Ibaraki University in Japan and his colleagues now provide, if not an actual proof, at least compelling evidence that Maldacena’s conjecture is true.

In one paper2, Hyakutake computes the internal energy of a black hole, the position of its event horizon (the boundary between the black hole and the rest of the Universe), its entropy and other properties based on the predictions of string theory as well as the effects of so-called virtual particles that continuously pop into and out of existence. In the other3, he and his collaborators calculate the internal energy of the corresponding lower-dimensional cosmos with no gravity. The two computer calculations match.

“It seems to be a correct computation,” says Maldacena, who is now at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey and who did not contribute to the team’s work.

The findings “are an interesting way to test many ideas in quantum gravity and string theory”, Maldacena adds. The two papers, he notes, are the culmination of a series of articles contributed by the Japanese team over the past few years. “The whole sequence of papers is very nice because it tests the dual [nature of the universes] in regimes where there are no analytic tests.”

“They have numerically confirmed, perhaps for the first time, something we were fairly sure had to be true, but was still a conjecture — namely that the thermodynamics of certain black holes can be reproduced from a lower-dimensional universe,” says Leonard Susskind, a theoretical physicist at Stanford University in California who was among the first theoreticians to explore the idea of holographic universes.

Neither of the model universes explored by the Japanese team resembles our own, Maldacena notes. The cosmos with a black hole has ten dimensions, with eight of them forming an eight-dimensional sphere. The lower-dimensional, gravity-free one has but a single dimension, and its menagerie of quantum particles resembles a group of idealized springs, or harmonic oscillators, attached to one another.

Nevertheless, says Maldacena, the numerical proof that these two seemingly disparate worlds are actually identical gives hope that the gravitational properties of our Universe can one day be explained by a simpler cosmos purely in terms of quantum theory.

http://www.nature.com/news/simulations-back-up-theory-that-universe-is-a-hologram-1.14328#/b1

Artist's impression of planets discovered by Kepler spacecraft

Our galaxy probably contains at least two billion planets that, like Earth, have liquid water on their surfaces and orbit around their parent stars in the “habitable zone” for life. The nearest, according to astronomers, could be a mere 12 light years away.

A new study, published on Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, suggests that Earth-like planets capable of supporting life are far more common than previously thought. Using measurements from Nasa’s Kepler space observatory, scientists led by Erik Petigura at the University of California, Berkeley, estimated that 22% of our galaxy’s sun-like stars have rocky planets circling them in the zone where they get roughly the same amount of light energy as Earth receives from the sun. There are around 100bn stars in our galaxy, of which 10% are like the sun.

So far Kepler has studied more than 150,000 stars and identified more than 3,000 candidate planets, but many of these are “gas giants”, similar to Jupiter, that orbit close to their parent stars. If there is life out there, it is far more likely to have evolved on rocky planets with liquid water on their surfaces, similar to Earth.

To get their results, Petigura’s team looked for planets in Kepler data that had a radius up to double that of Earth. They searched for planets that orbited far enough from their star that liquid water would not evaporate, but not so far that the water would all freeze.

Subhanjoy Mohanty, an astrophysicist at Imperial College London who was not involved with the study, said: “This is the first estimate of the frequency of Earth-like planets around sun-like stars, in orbits large enough to lie in the habitable zone of their stars. The finding that roughly one in five sun-like stars may host such planets is an incredibly important one, probably exceeding the expectations of most cautious astronomers.”

He added that the latest analysis increased the chances that there might be life somewhere among the stars. “Previous analyses of Kepler data had shown that red dwarfs – the most common type of star in the galaxy, making up about 80% of the stellar population – very frequently harbour Earth-size planets, including in their habitable zones. This new study shows that the same is true around stars more like our own sun. This is certainly an added impetus for planned future missions which will study the atmospheres of these potentially habitable planets, enabling us to investigate whether they are in fact habitable or not, and also whether their atmospheres show actual biosignatures of existing life.”

Nasa also announced on Monday that the Kepler probe would be given a new lease of life, following fears that it would have to end its mission after only four years in space. In May 2013, scientists discovered that one of the gyroscopic wheels – known as “reaction wheels” – that kept the probe pointing in the right direction had stopped working and, try as they might, Nasa engineers could not restart it. Unable to point itself at the stars with any accuracy, the probe could no longer be used to collect data about the position of new exoplanets.

But it looks as though there could be a solution that involves reorienting the probe to look along the plane of the galaxy, which will allow it to remain stable with only two of its reaction wheels working. “The old saying ‘necessity is the mother of invention’ has rung true here, with engineers and scientists from Nasa and the spacecraft manufacturers having figured out this way to – we hope – recover much of the performance we thought we had lost. We are very excited,” said Bill Chaplin, an astrophysicist at the University of Birmingham in the UK.

If all goes well, the new Kepler mission – dubbed “K2” – will look for planets around smaller stars than the sun, and will also study the stars themselves. “There are a wealth of fantastically interesting targets for astrophysics that can be observed in the ecliptic plane, which were not accessible in the original Kepler field, notably brighter clusters of stars – where the common origins and distances to these stars make the clusters excellent laboratories for testing our understanding of stars – and young, star-forming regions,” said Chaplin.

http://www.theguardian.com/science/2013/nov/04/planets-galaxy-life-kepler

Thanks to Kebmodee for bringing this to the attention of the It’s Interesting community.