Friday, January 30, 2009
The GEO600 system is armed with six hundred meters of laser tube, which sounds like enough to equip an entire Star War, but these lasers are for detection, not destruction. GEO600's length means it can measure changes of one part in six hundred million, accurate enough to detect even the tiniest ripples in space time - assuming it isn't thrown off by somebody sneezing within a hundred meters or the wrong types of cloud overhead (seriously). The problem with such an incredibly sensitive device is just that - it's incredibly sensitive.
The interferometer staff constantly battle against unwanted aberration, and were struggling against a particularly persistent signal when Fermilab Professor Craig Hogan suggested the problem wasn't with their equipment but with reality itself. The quantum limit of reality, the Planck length, occurs at a far smaller length scale than their signal - but according to Hogan, this literal ultimate limit of tininess might be scaled up because we're all holograms.
The idea is that all of our spatial dimensions can be represented by a 'surface' with one less dimension, just like a 3D hologram can be built out of information in 2D foils. The foils in our case are the edges of the observable universe, where quantum fluctuations at the Planck scale are 'scaled up' into the ripples observed by the GEO600 team. We'd like to remind you that although we're talking about "The GEO600 Laser Team probing the edge of reality", this is not a movie.
What does this mean for you? In everyday action, nothing much - we're afraid that a fundamentally holographic nature doesn't allow you to travel around playing guitar and fighting crime (no matter what 80s cartoons may have taught you.) Whether reality is as you see it, or you're the representation of interactions on a surface at the edge of the universe, getting run over by a truck (or a representation thereof) will still kill you.
In intellectual terms, though, this should raise so many fascinating questions you'll never need TV again. While in the extreme earliest stages, with far more work to go before anyone can draw any conclusions, this is some of the most mind-bending metaphysical science you'll ever see. Are we real, or are we quantum interactions on the edges of the universe - and is that just as real anyway?
Once more we see that sufficiently advanced physics is indistinguishable from getting really stoned.
Posted by Luke McKinney
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