Monday, 19 December 2011

In the Universe's Shadow

“It turns out that an eerie type of chaos can lurk just behind a facade of order - and yet, deep inside the chaos lurks an even eerier type of order”
– Douglas Hostadter 

In the TED video above, George Smoot talks about the design of the universe. What becomes clear is that for all the appearance of randomness from our perspective here on Earth, when computer modelling is thrown into the mix, an underlying order is quickly revealed. 

This is particularly clearly illustrated by Smoot's image of dark matter. This is the hidden ingredient in the cake recipe for the universe. We know this "thing" exists and can indeed see its effect around distant galaxies where light is bent around their edges (forming a gravitational lens to view even more distant galaxies). There is not enough matter in a galaxy to bend light as much as observed, and we’ve labelled this missing mass dark matter.

The mapped image of dark matter is breathtaking. It shows that the design for the universe is far from chaotic and has a very ordered underlying filament-like structure. This is a recurring fractal pattern seen in nature, from the branches of a tree, to the bronchioles of lungs. However, to see this in our universe you need to zoom right out. Quantum physics deals with the very small. The scale we're talking here is exactly the opposite, the physics of the very, very large. When you consider the measurements that George Smoot is talking about, the scale of the universe alone is jaw-dropping. Each tiny node in his image are entire galaxies (there hundreds of billions in our universe).
It seems that the data is telling us that the empty stuff out there, the void between galaxies is filled with order. I personally find that an inspiring thought.