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The Universe is Finite
August 2, 2007 5:52 PM   Subscribe

Remember CERN from The Da Vinci Code? And their mega-project the Large Hadron Collider(previously mentioned here?) This BBC Horizons show, The Six Billion Dollar Experiment, does a good job illustrating why such an experiment is so cool, important and fascinating. Apparently, the universe is finite. (Includes Google Video-last link)
posted by snsranch (75 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite

 
From the May 14, 2007 issue of the New Yorker: "Crash Course -- Can a seventeen-mile-long collider unlock the universe?"
posted by ericb at 6:05 PM on August 2, 2007 [1 favorite]


Be sure to check out the New Yorker slide show of the CERN facility.
posted by ericb at 6:08 PM on August 2, 2007


Better google video:

http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=3407710188844062148
posted by bukvich at 6:10 PM on August 2, 2007


Thanks for this, it sounds fascinating. I'd better watch it before it creates a black hole and destroys us all, though.
posted by Sticherbeast at 6:17 PM on August 2, 2007


Remember CERN from The Da Vinci Code?

Did it appear in that one? I thought it was the prequel, Angels and Demons.

posted by pineapple at 6:22 PM on August 2, 2007 [1 favorite]


ScienceFilter! Cool.

I am curious what result the collider will produce.
posted by homodigitalis at 6:23 PM on August 2, 2007


pineapple, yea, I think you might be right about that.
posted by snsranch at 6:30 PM on August 2, 2007 [1 favorite]


CERN? Da Vinci Code?

Get your shitty pop novels out of my science.

No, I don't remember CERN from the Da Vinci Code. I remember it because it's the biggest, most famous particle physics institute in the world.
posted by azazello at 6:30 PM on August 2, 2007 [25 favorites]


Remember CERN from The Da Vinci Code?

poor brain-addled little consumerbot...
posted by quonsar at 6:33 PM on August 2, 2007 [6 favorites]


But I want to find a Higgs boson now!
posted by The Great Big Mulp at 6:33 PM on August 2, 2007 [2 favorites]


"All right, Gordon, put the sample in the chamber. Hmmm, thats an odd reading.....I'm sure it's nothing....."
posted by Avenger at 6:41 PM on August 2, 2007 [10 favorites]


That reminds me--does anyone remember the Internet? You know, from The Matrix?
posted by DU at 6:43 PM on August 2, 2007 [5 favorites]


Remember The Beatles from Stephen King's Christine?

Remember Japan from Yu-Gi-Oh?

Remember Albert Einstein from Command and Conquer: Red Alert?

CERN INVENTED THE WORLD WIDE WEB. YOU INGRATE.
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 6:43 PM on August 2, 2007 [19 favorites]


I've got a Large Hadron.

[To the Universe]
The way I figure, there's really not too much future with a sawed-off runt like you.
posted by carsonb at 6:45 PM on August 2, 2007 [1 favorite]


also, yeah, saying "CERN from the Da Vinci Code" is a bit like saying "Albert Einstein from the patent office".
posted by Avenger at 6:51 PM on August 2, 2007


Remember "The Last Supper" from the Da Vinci Code?
posted by Kraftmatic Adjustable Cheese at 6:53 PM on August 2, 2007 [6 favorites]


Remember the Da Vinci Code? I'd rather purge my flesh with knotted whips.
posted by flabdablet at 6:55 PM on August 2, 2007


The money quote from Marjorie Shapiro of CERN, via bukvich's Google Video link:
"The real goal of this next generation of accelerator experiments is to try and distinguish between the many possible models of high-energy collisions that are relevant to the early universe, and decide which ones are correct and which ones are beautiful but really are only fantasies."
Further evidence of the Grand Unified Theory.
posted by rob511 at 7:00 PM on August 2, 2007


Remember London from "Spice World"?
posted by signal at 7:02 PM on August 2, 2007 [6 favorites]


You know why humans rule? Because there is an infinitesimal chance that when they turn this thing on, it could cause a black hole that could destroy the planet.

And they are going to do it anyway.

I love that our curiosity is so powerful, that we could see a switch labeled 'Do not touch, kills everything!' and we would seriously consider seeing exactly what it did.

That powerful desire to know is one of the few things that keeps me from writing us completely off as a species.
posted by quin at 7:03 PM on August 2, 2007 [7 favorites]


Remember Leonardo, from the Ninja Turtles?
posted by anthill at 7:10 PM on August 2, 2007


Remember Marxism, from the Smurfs?
posted by bunnytricks at 7:14 PM on August 2, 2007 [1 favorite]


Large Hardon Collider
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 7:21 PM on August 2, 2007


Oh dear. I wish I'd known about this Large Hadron Collider experiment before I'd started my spring cleaning. I had a whole coffee can full of Higgs Bosons out in the garage that I donated to the Salvation Army "Photons Phor Phun!" drive.
posted by maryh at 7:21 PM on August 2, 2007 [1 favorite]


(Note to self: Erroneous references to pop-lit in conjunction with interesting science post is suck.) Oops.


(sneaks out, Hmmm, let's see what's going on upstairs in jessamyn's post.)
posted by snsranch at 7:27 PM on August 2, 2007 [1 favorite]


My knowledge of physics and math isn't nearly going to help me make sense of this, thus I'm having trouble conceiving of the following:

What is the 'shape' of the finite universe? If not a structure similar to a moebius strip, then how is it possible for the universe to be finite, and yet not have a bounding limit, and if it has a bounding limit that implies (in my layman's brain) that there's an inside and an outside, which then forces me to contend with "what's outside?"

This also leads to the question: if the universe is that which contains everything how can it not contain the stuff on the other side of it's furthest boundary?

Which ultimately forces me to ask: is this all explained in the links provided in the FPP and am I just being a lazy shite by not sitting through that BBC video?
posted by C.Batt at 7:29 PM on August 2, 2007


I love that our curiosity is so powerful, that we could see a switch labeled 'Do not touch, kills everything!' and we would seriously consider seeing exactly what it did.

"I wonder if that happens every time."
posted by Johnny Assay at 7:31 PM on August 2, 2007 [1 favorite]


I don't have the maths behind this, but I've heard someone mention that if a black hole was created by this new supercollider, it'd be tiny and burn itself out rather quickly. Something to do with the amount of energy going in.

The accompanying anlogy given was that when the first thermonuclear explosions were being tested people were afraid that it'd be hot enough to ignite atmosphere and that a chain reaction would cause the ignition of all of the Earth's atmosphere. Luckily, given the inverse square law, there isn't enough energy to ignite the entire terrestrial atmosphere.
posted by porpoise at 7:37 PM on August 2, 2007


They had to build this after the Super Monkey Collider lost funding
posted by splatta at 7:39 PM on August 2, 2007


C.Batt - from my limited understanding, there's nothing "outside" the universe because there's no outside since an outside does not exist. An analogy I've heard someone describe (although it might make things even more confusing) is - where does a circle start and where does a circle end? There is no start or end like there's nothing beyond the shape of the universe.

The shape of the Universe defines existence.

If you are at the very very edge of the universe (say, you were present very near the edge when the universe was created) and you somehow managed to travel faster than the expansion rate of the universe, you'd "slide" around the edge.

(and I've heard that many theoretical cosmologists think that the universe is more "saddle" shaped - kind of a fleshed out moebius strip)
posted by porpoise at 7:44 PM on August 2, 2007


I hear it can flash fry a buffalo in two minutes.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 7:48 PM on August 2, 2007 [1 favorite]


I've been to CERN. I've see the large hadron collider. And you sir, are no super-accelerated high energy particle.
posted by blue_beetle at 7:52 PM on August 2, 2007


The Large hadron Collider - Search for the Higgs...

and for a Hitchhikers guide to the Galaxy Version... (its the voice!)
posted by blue_beetle at 7:56 PM on August 2, 2007


C.Batt, during some point in the vid, it is shown that with the hubble telecope it is possible to see where galaxies no longer exist. Where there should or could be more matter (bigger chunks) there are only noble gasses and emptiness beyond.

However, from what I took from it, that was only in one direction, so it doesn't serve to describe the shape of the universe.

One thing that hasn't been mentioned is the idea that if our universe is actually finite, and we can see to the end of at least one part of it, then, much like SETI witnesses, there is probably no other intelligent life out there.
posted by snsranch at 8:09 PM on August 2, 2007 [1 favorite]


"Because there is an infinitesimal chance that when they turn this thing on, it could cause a black hole that could destroy the planet."

Nonsense. Despite our best efforts, the LHC is still rather a lot less energetic than the sort of events generated in the atmosphere by cosmic rays every day:

if the Earth were in danger of any such fate, it would have happened billions of years ago from the bombardment of protons the planet receives that are millions of times more energetic than anything that could be produced by the LHC [silly podcast]

There's an infinitesimal chance that when I type this, one of my fingers will quantum tunnel through the keyboard and leave me embedded within it. I do not factor this into my risk assessment for typing, nor do I think I rule for ignoring that risk factor.

Now, if it were a 27 km long keyboard with superconducting magnets, and I had to convince lots of people to help me build it first...
posted by Freaky at 8:16 PM on August 2, 2007 [1 favorite]


Watching the History channel show The Universe last night sparked an interesting conversation between the Wife and I. Specifically, the big bang. They made reference to the infinitely dense point that eventually exploded and made everything.

There was one point of debate: did it make the space as well? Or was this point sitting in some void, and by exploding it simply spread the matter that makes up the universe into that void.
posted by quin at 8:22 PM on August 2, 2007


C. Batt,
What is the 'shape' of the finite universe? If not a structure similar to a moebius strip, then how is it possible for the universe to be finite, and yet not have a bounding limit, and if it has a bounding limit that implies (in my layman's brain) that there's an inside and an outside, which then forces me to contend with "what's outside?"
that question is answered elegantly in a Brief History of Time.

If you try (as natural) to think in 3 dimensions it's quite difficult to imagine. It's easy to think that the universe is like a sphere that is expanding and we, humans, are somewhere inside that sphere. Thus, there should be something outside this universe-sphere.

But it's not like that.

Please correct me if im wrong but you have to think in 4 dimensions (which I guess is a little hard).


Someona at E2
rephrased Hawking's example as:
Hawking took away one dimension, and compared our universe with a balloon, and an ant living on it. While the ant can never reach the edge of the universe (there are none), it would be possible for the ant to go all the way around, ending up where it started.

However! If the balloon was growing at a certain speed, the ant would never be able to complete the trip around.
posted by edmz at 8:37 PM on August 2, 2007


I hear it can flash fry a buffalo in two minutes.

Two minutes?! But I want it now!
posted by graventy at 8:46 PM on August 2, 2007


There was one point of debate: did it make the space as well?

I think it's genally agreed that yes, it did. (And along with it, time... now there's a headache) The difficulty in understanding the big bang (and what came before) is that all the concepts of the nature of space and matter we use are specific to this universe, and consequently past that "big bang" point we can't use them to understand what occurred or what was.
posted by mek at 8:47 PM on August 2, 2007


the infinitely dense point that eventually exploded and made everything: did it make the space as well?

From what I understand, which is extremely limited, the answer is yes. Also, I understand that there was no "eventually" because there was to "time" before the event.
posted by longsleeves at 9:01 PM on August 2, 2007


I remember CERN from CERN. On the train from Zurich, I was lucky enough to meet a fellow Canadian who worked there, and he gave me a tour. I didn't get to travel around in the tunnels, of course, but I remember huge concrete blocks the size of cars stacked up in monsterous piles at the focus to protect people from the radiation and to stop belt buckles, coins, and watches from getting sucked into the Italian magnets.

From the BBC link:

This moment could conceivably trigger a catastrophic event--a black hole--able to destroy entire cities, and earth itself.

Remember You, from YouTube?
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 9:02 PM on August 2, 2007


Was Hawking or Einstein who said "Time is what makes it possible to leave your first wife"?
posted by longsleeves at 9:11 PM on August 2, 2007 [1 favorite]


i can attest to the fact that there was time and space before the big bang because when it happened, i said, "excuse me, i farted."
posted by PigAlien at 9:11 PM on August 2, 2007


it
posted by longsleeves at 9:12 PM on August 2, 2007


Actually CERN from Da Vinci code was one of the funny bits. Or waitaminute wasn't it CERN from ANGELS AND DEMONS?!?!

Anyways, the whole "How'd you get my phone number?"
"Off the Internets" "It's hidden on the Internets" "We're CERN we invented the Internets, duh!" "Yeah right jerks" only to see the Tim Brenners-Lee plaque when he got to CERN was the only cute joke Dan Brown ever managed.
posted by thecjm at 9:15 PM on August 2, 2007


You know why humans rule? Because there is an infinitesimal chance that when they turn this thing on, it could cause a black hole that could destroy the planet.

There is not an infinitesimal chance. There is zero chance. Rule #1 of black holes: the smaller the mass, the faster they lose energy via Hawking radiation. Any artificial black holes generated by the LHC would be so small that they could not be in existence long enough to consume any mass larger than a neutrino, and even if one did manage to beat the nigh-infinite odds and do so, it still wouldn't last long enough to absorb anything of actual significant mass.

Because the ratio between a positive integer and 0 is infinity, it is fair to say that the human race is engaged in a lot of activities with infinitely higher probability of wiping it out in short order.

Sleep well.
posted by Ryvar at 9:30 PM on August 2, 2007


Of course the universe is finite.

It's just infinitely big.

Or something.
posted by Ynoxas at 9:39 PM on August 2, 2007


There was one point of debate: did it make the space as well?

Space and time – indeed, all of physics – as we know them start at the big bang. It doesn't make sense to use the terms beforehand. People do play with theories about things like cyclic universes that have a big bang, grow for a while, then collapse into a big crunch and explode again, but it would be a huge surprise if experiments can ever falsify any of these theories.

One thing to keep in mind is that the universe has been infinitely large since the moment it was created. However, at that early moment there was also a huge amount of energy at every point in space. The universe then behaved like the surface of a balloon when you inflate it. If you draw two points on a balloon, they are close together before you inflate it, but as the balloon gets bigger and bigger the points get farther apart. There's still the same amount of balloon there (in the universe's case, this is an infinite amount), but points get farther apart and the energy density got less and less as there was more space to move into.

By the way, while it will be very exciting when the LHC turns on, the results won't come pouring out immediately. There will be several months of callibration followed by several more months of data collection and analysis. The people I know who work on one of the detectors at the LHC doubt that there will be any papers for at least a year after it turns on, if not longer. Still, any day a new particle accelerator comes online is a great day.
posted by Schismatic at 9:42 PM on August 2, 2007


The Da Vinci what?
posted by Astro Zombie at 9:46 PM on August 2, 2007


You can check out a Quicktime panorama of the CERN facitilty courtesy my awesome post of yore.
posted by Burhanistan at 9:52 PM on August 2, 2007


Space and time – indeed, all of physics – as we know them start at the big bang. It doesn't make sense to use the terms beforehand. People do play with theories about things like cyclic universes that have a big bang, grow for a while, then collapse into a big crunch and explode again, but it would be a huge surprise if experiments can ever falsify any of these theories.

True. Also, in practice and in theory physicists don't really even talk about the Big Bang itself. Most will refer to, say, 10^(-x) seconds after the Big Bang where x is a bigger and bigger number. I'm not aware of any theories which talk about what happens at time 0 - that's more of a theoretical construct.

Certainly string theorists too have this notion of the Universe sort of flipping inside-out at a certain scale, so that it has always been growing just not always in this "direction."

The interesting thing about Higgs would be not finding it. It is a very neat solution to the problem of reconciling quantum wavefunctions with their inertial (not gravitational) mass (and thus overall dynamics) by simply adding in their interaction with the Higgs field. If Higgs is not there, its not so clear how to solve this problem. Back to the drawing board, I guess...

And if Higgs is found, its just on to the next problem. We still can't reconcile all of this with GR which has a different model of mass altogether and all the other forces are just thrown in as metrics. And without understanding how to fit in GR, we'll never be able to understand what happened at the Big Bang...
posted by vacapinta at 10:09 PM on August 2, 2007


great vid. surprising there was no mention of RHIC @ BNL (despite all the NYC shots), as it was the first accelerator powerful enough to bring up black hole scares, etc..

wish i was smart enough to be a particle physicist. :)
posted by jba at 10:49 PM on August 2, 2007


There was one point of debate: did it make the space as well? Or was this point sitting in some void, and by exploding it simply spread the matter that makes up the universe into that void.

The universe is the void. "Space" is just the areas which have less stuff in them. Like edmz mentioned, the balloon analogy is pretty handy here. The universe is a bunch of stuff distributed at various distances from each other, and the distances are constantly increasing – the balloon is being inflated.

So, consider a balloon which is slightly unusual in that it has no inherent "deflated state". It is some strange magic balloon that is floating in midair and, let's say, rather than inflating, it's deflating, slowly. (Don't worry about the air is going, it's the magic of imperfect analogies.)

The points on the balloon will converge more and more and more, though they are all still there. If we remove the air entirely from our magic analogy balloon, it is simply this tiny little kernel of balloon rubber. All of the points we may have made on the outside of it with a marker when it was full of air are now in one spot, along with the balloon itself.

The universe is like this. Though at this point, 13.7 billion years in, most things are unimaginably far apart, back when it was very very very young, everything was unimaginably close together. But there was no void it was in, no space. When you rewind back enough you get to a point where the entirety of the energy of the universe (and I use the word energy here on purpose, as the concept of "particles" really doesn't work very well at this point, even) was in one single infinitesimal point.

Everything, including the space, came from the expansion, cooling, and coalescing of the energy from that infinitesimal point. But, to steal a handy quote: "there's no there, there." It wasn't sitting in a void any more than our current universe is sitting in a void. It defines and contains the entirety of existence. There's nothing for it to be in. Even though it was tiny, it was still everything. As far as our current working definition of the universe goes, it includes everything that exists, everything that has existed, and everything that will exist.

... but of course, make up your own theories at home, because everything at the primordial origin point of the universe really is just handwaving. The truth is unknowable.
posted by blacklite at 10:49 PM on August 2, 2007


Oh, Schismatic beat me, because I got lost reading about all of the related concepts.

Anyway. I will bet anyone $10 that there is no Higgs boson, just because these things are never as straightforward as we'd like them to be. The LHC is truly awesome, nonetheless, and the first runs in November will be great to see results from.
posted by blacklite at 10:58 PM on August 2, 2007


it may be intensely shallow of me, but I put down Angels and Demons at the end of the first chapter, because I was put off by the holier-than-thou scientist guy pontificating about how CERN created the world-wide-web. I think it was because my mind inserted "internet" for "world-wide-web" and I knew that the ARPANET was American.

But regardless of that, I really really like particle accelerators, if only for their grand scale and the intense forces involved, plus the ability to simulate the early universe.
posted by grandsham at 11:00 PM on August 2, 2007


Another just-so story. From the Google video: "There was truly, truly nothing. That is to say, not even a place where it happened. Not even a time when it happened." Where is the finite in that? Leon Lederman: "There's something spooky about this standard model. It doesn't really work. So we know there is something sick in our theory."

In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. And God said, Let there be light: and there was light (some dude approx. 6000 years ago. Now, a lot more detail, but not much improvement on the theory). I'm going up to jessamyn's post too.
posted by sluglicker at 12:41 AM on August 3, 2007


Hour-long documentary programme elides some details! Physicists attempting to summarize thirty years of messing about with fundamental particles use vague wording! Universe does not have a location in which it exists!

Science, therefore, has accomplished nothing!

Thanks, sluglicker, say hi for me.
posted by blacklite at 1:25 AM on August 3, 2007


God Wins law. No space. No apostrophe.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 1:28 AM on August 3, 2007


Hi.
posted by sluglicker at 1:54 AM on August 3, 2007


Get your shitty pop religions out of my science thread.
posted by Optamystic at 2:13 AM on August 3, 2007


'C.Batt, during some point in the vid, it is shown that with the hubble telecope it is possible to see where galaxies no longer exist. Where there should or could be more matter (bigger chunks) there are only noble gasses and emptiness beyond. '

The reason there is none is because you've looked so far back in time the galaxies haven't got around to forming yet. I just want to make it clear that there's nothing funny going on this far away - it's exactly what happened right here, just a very long time ago.

The amount of matter's the same. It's just not doing that whole stars and galaxies thing yet.
posted by edd at 2:56 AM on August 3, 2007


It seems my comment has been misunderstood. I don't always communicate what I'm thinking effectively. There is no religion vs. science implied and I would hate to see the thread derailed, so just ignore my comment.
posted by sluglicker at 2:58 AM on August 3, 2007


Can anyone give me a time in this video for this finite universe business?
posted by edd at 3:02 AM on August 3, 2007


Remember Poland? No. You forgot Poland.
posted by Eideteker at 4:44 AM on August 3, 2007


You may also recognize the particle collision illustrations from the cover of The Strokes debut album
posted by splatta at 6:04 AM on August 3, 2007


I'm excited about the Large Hadron Collider, but the provincial American in me is a little sad to see Fermilab lose the king of the hill status. Not sad, I guess, but it was cool knowing that the world's biggest accelerator was just a day's drive away.
posted by COBRA! at 7:00 AM on August 3, 2007


It was Fast and Fermious.
posted by storybored at 7:36 AM on August 3, 2007 [1 favorite]


One thing to keep in mind is that the universe has been infinitely large since the moment it was created.

Really? I thought current theory leans toward finite but unbounded, like the surface of a sphere. I've always liked with the steady-state model of the universe, but understood that there were serious theoretical problems with it.

When you rewind back enough you get to a point where the entirety of the energy of the universe (and I use the word energy here on purpose, as the concept of "particles" really doesn't work very well at this point, even) was in one single infinitesimal point.

I just want to point out that whether there was a single infinitesimal point or not is still an open question.
posted by Bort at 9:29 AM on August 3, 2007


"Spatially flat" is apparently what cosmologists are thinking now, according to my astronomy professor.
posted by oneirodynia at 10:02 AM on August 3, 2007


oneirodynia - right, current evidence favours a flat universe.

I'm not aware of people having much opinion on the finite/infinite thing thouhg, which is why I was particularly keen to find out if and why they'd stated as fact that the universe is finite.
posted by edd at 1:43 PM on August 3, 2007


Nobody knows if the physical universe is finite or infinite and it would be arrogant to presume either way.
posted by Burhanistan at 2:02 PM on August 3, 2007


I'm also curious where the finite universe thing comes from. It's not in any of the links as far as I can tell...

Or is that from the Da Vinci code too?

The whole finite/infinite distinction lacks rigor. The observable Universe is finite since it includes only those things which have been able to affect us (in a relativity sense) since the Big Bang. the larger Universe can be a bit more of a metaphysical concept...I'm not sure how we resolve whether its finite or infinite....

Our Universe is at least close to flat though, it has a very low matter density and a vacuum energy (the cosmological constant). By a huge margin this means it will be expanding forever...
posted by vacapinta at 2:20 PM on August 3, 2007


Or is that from the Da Vinci code too?
Yes, and a little Stoli too. Oh, it wasn't a good day at the ranch.

The reason there is none is because you've looked so far back in time the galaxies haven't got around to forming yet. I just want to make it clear that there's nothing funny going on this far away - it's exactly what happened right here, just a very long time ago.

The amount of matter's the same. It's just not doing that whole stars and galaxies thing yet.
posted by edd at 2:56 AM on August 3 [+] [!]


That pretty much explains what I misinterpreted.
posted by snsranch at 3:36 PM on August 3, 2007 [1 favorite]


It's possible to resolve in favour of the finite universe by looking at the microwave background (or suitably distant objects) and looking for the same thing in two different directions. This lets you put a scale on the universe repeating in some direction, wrapping round on itself. People have tried looking for such effects, but none have yet been found.

I don't see how you could ever decide in favour of an infinite universe though.
posted by edd at 6:40 AM on August 6, 2007


Right on edd. I know this thread is dead, but you have me thinking about it again.

If we're sticking with the big bang, then that collision happened in a finite space. Even though the resulting matter/universe is expanding exponentially, it should, in theory, be measurable and finite. That is exactly what makes the LHC so exiting. Hopefully we'll be able to witness the expansion or at least the beginning of it to use as a scale for our real universe.

This is really fascinating stuff. Next time I won't screw up the post.
posted by snsranch at 5:58 PM on August 6, 2007 [1 favorite]


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