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Mon Nov 11, 2019, 08:00 AM

The Universe Is Made of Tiny Bubbles Containing Mini-Universes, Scientists Say [View all]

Tech by VICE

'Spacetime foam' might just be the wildest thing in the known universe, and we're just starting to understand it.
By Carly Minsky
Oct 24 2019, 7:00am

A persistent cosmological puzzle has been troubling physicists since 1917: what is the universe made of?

Complicating this already-mind-boggling question is the fact that our best theories conflict with our observations of the universe. Albert Einstein, according to scientific folklore, felt a unique responsibility for introducing this entire problem, reportedly referring to it as his "biggest blunder."

Essentially, Einstein's novel theory of general relativity didn’t hold up when used to describe the universe as a whole. General relativity described the "geometry" of spacetime as being a trampoline-like surface; planets are heavy bowling balls that distort the surface, creating curves. If a less heavy ball (like a marble) was placed near the bowling ball, it would roll along the surface just like the motion of planets in orbit. Thus, orbits are explained not by a gravitational “force” but by curvature in spacetime.

This proposal worked when considering small regions of spacetime. But when Einstein applied it to the entire universe, its predictions didn't fit. So, Einstein introduced the "cosmological constant," a fixed value that represents a kind of anti-gravity, anti-mass, and anti-energy, counteracting gravity’s effects. But when scientists discovered that the universe was expanding rather than static, as Einstein had believed, the cosmological constant was set to zero and more or less ignored. After we learned that the universe’s expansion is accelerating, however, scientists could no longer conveniently cancel out Einstein’s anti-gravity suggestion.


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