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2/18/10

Are We Living In A Cosmic Hologram?: Gravitational Wave Detector & Limit of Spacetime


Haul out your wallet. Take a look at a credit card. Notice the hologram. The image was taken by holography, a kind of lensless photography achieved as an interference pattern on photothermoplastic. Looking at the hologram, you see an image exhibiting parallax. Move the image around, and it changes appearance depending on the angle. Then there is this: every part of a hologram contains the whole. One corner, or a spot in the middle, reveals the entire image.

Leonard Susskind and Nobel prizewinner Gerard 't Hooft, both physicists, say the holographic principle might apply to the universe. You are reading this now, which was started somewhere in distant space. Or you are you inside you inside you. Etc. It's deja vu all over again.

Which brings me to my story.

Driving through the countryside near Hannover, Germany you will see some plain, unassuming buildings. Were you to ask a local, he might not know that at the site the German-British gravitational wave detector GEO600 is housed.

As you can tell from its name, the detector looks for gravitational waves, which are ripples in spacetime. Neutron stars and black holes would cause such ripples. But GE0600 has not found any gravitational waves so far, and it has been looking for seven years, not long in cosmological terms. It has caused waves of a different kind.

The detector was causing problems, so the people inside the buildings thought. Members of the GEO600 team were frustrated. Their giant detector was making strange noises and they couldn't figure out the cause.

"Then, out of the blue, a researcher approached them with an explanation. In fact, he had even predicted the noise before he knew they were detecting it. According to Craig Hogan, a physicist at the Fermilab particle physics lab in Batavia, Illinois, GEO600 has stumbled upon the fundamental limit of space-time - the point where space-time stops behaving like the smooth continuum Einstein described and instead dissolves into 'grains', just as a newspaper photograph dissolves into dots as you zoom in. 'It looks like GEO600 is being buffeted by the microscopic quantum convulsions of space-time,' says Hogan.

If this doesn't blow your socks off, then Hogan, who has just been appointed director of Fermilab's Center for Particle Astrophysics, has an even bigger shock in store: 'If the GEO600 result is what I suspect it is, then we are all living in giant cosmic hologram.' . . .

The 'holographic principle' challenges our sensibilities. It seems hard to believe that you woke up, brushed your teeth and are reading this article because of something happening on the boundary of the universe." More

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