Our universe. It’s awe-inspiring, and baffling. From colossal explosions of stars, to the strange movements of tiny particles, each new discovery seems to uncover a new layer of mystery. Our understanding of the world around us has taken us from the Stone Age to the Silicon Age. Now, ironclad laws of physics are breaking apart. What we believe of reality may not be real at all. The future of humanity depends on our discovering how the universe really works. ~ Morgan Freeman, Through the Wormhole, How Does the Universe Work?
Since the ancient Greeks first speculated that everything they observed in reality was the result of the interaction of tiny particles they called atoms, great thinkers have tried to find a single mathematical formula that governs and explains the workings of the entire universe. So far, though, even minds as brilliant as physicists Albert Einstein and Stephen Hawking have been unable to come up with that single grand equation of everything, also known as the theory of everything, or the final theory. Nevertheless, they continue to try, because without that final piece of the puzzle that is reality, the sum total of what we know falls a bit short of making sense.
Today on Far Future Horizons we join host Morgan Freeman on a quest to answer the question – How does the Universe work?
This instalment of Through the Wormhole highlights the work of physicists around the world who are discovering physical phenomena that are forcing us to rethink our present understanding of physical laws.
Some of the questions that this instalment addresses are: do deeper principles underlay quantum uncertainty and nonlocality? Principles, which may eventually reconcile the Quantum Mechanics with Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity?
Could there in fact be five fundamental forces governing the behavior of matter in the Universe instead of the four (gravity, electromagnetism and the strong and weak nuclear forces) currently known? - A so called “Chameleon Force” as postulated by Dr Clare Burrage of the Geneva Cosmology Group at CERN.
"What is unusual about this force is that its range changes according to its environment, a cosmic chameleon that might just explain the mysteries of dark energy. "
In recent years our picture of the Universe has started to unravel. There is more to the universe than meets the eye. There is a lot more, and for the most part, it’s invisible. According to the best estimates, we only really know what makes up about four percent of the universe. But if only four per cent is made of atoms, what about the rest? The rest is made of mysterious entities about which very little is known or understood, with equally mysterious names like: dark matter and dark energy.
And, could certain physical phenomena, which we assumed were constant, such as radioactive decay rates, in fact not be so constant after all?
Physicists Ephraim Fischbach and Jere Jenkins of Purdue University in Indiana are claiming that, far from being fixed, certain decay “constants” are influenced by the Sun. It is a claim that is drawing mixed reactions from others in the physics community, not least because it implies that decades of established science may be flawed. Yet, such phenomena may also provide us with a tool that will give us early warning of solar flares.
In our quest to understand the workings of the Cosmos we have gone this way before. At the turn of the last century we thought we knew all the fundamental laws that governed nature. All that remained, physicists thought, was for us to dot i’s and cross all the t’s (forgive the cliché), and nothing new remained to be discovered.
Then with the discovery of a host of new phenomena, with such prosaic names as Black Body Radiation, the Photoelectric Effect and the results (or rather the lack of a result thereof) of the Michelson–Morley experiment led to a "catastrophic" chasm between classical physics and the new discoveries which gave rise to new branches of Physics – the Theories of Special and General Relativity and Quantum Mechanics. *
Stay tuned the best is yet to come and new discoveries await us.
* For a detailed history of how these new discoveries changed the face of Physics allow me to direct your attention to Simon Schaffer's monumental four part documentary series the "Light Fantastic" and the BBC documentary “Uncertain Principles” which explorers the historical development of Quantum Mechanics as a new field in physics.
This episode is also available from Amazon's Instant Video.