Posts Tagged ‘Universe’

What to do if we find alien life

“Some have argued that it’s only a matter of time till we find alien life – so we should get planning” writes Duncan Forgan in his article titled “What to do you if you discover an alien civilization” published in The Independent.

Indeed, what should we do?

In 1989, a committee of SETI scientists even drew up a set of post-detection protocols to guide scientists through the steps after discovery. These steps include getting your colleagues to verify the discovery, and notifying “relevant national authorities” (precisely who this means is unclear to me), followed by the scientific community and then the public via a press release.

However all these rules were formulated before the era of total internet communications. That is why Duncan Forgan and his colleague Alexander Scholz decided to take another look at the issue, asking how the SETI post-detection protocols should change to reflect our super-connected world.

Duncan Forgan’s postdoctoral position at the University of St Andrews is funded by the European Research Council. He is a member of the Royal Society of Edinburgh’s Young Academy of Scotland, and a founding member of the UK SETI Research Network.

The scale of the universe

The Elegant Universe

In Einstein’s day, the strong and weak forces had not yet been discovered, but he found the existence of even two distinct forces—gravity and electromagnetism—deeply troubling. Einstein did not accept that nature is founded on such an extravagant design. This launched his 30-year voyage in search of the so-called unified field theory that he hoped would show that these two forces are really manifestations of one grand underlying principle. This quixotic quest isolated Einstein from the mainstream of physics, which, understandably, was far more excited about delving into the newly emerging framework of quantum mechanics. He wrote to a friend in the early 1940s, “I have become a lonely old chap who is mainly known because he doesn’t wear socks and who is exhibited as a curiosity on special occasions.”

Einstein was simply ahead of his time. More than half a century later, his dream of a unified theory has become the Holy Grail of modern physics. And a sizeable part of the physics and mathematics community is becoming increasingly convinced that string theory may provide the answer. From one principle—that everything at its most microscopic level consists of combinations of vibrating strands—string theory provides a single explanatory framework capable of encompassing all forces and all matter.

String theory proclaims, for instance, that the observed particle properties—that is, the different masses and other properties of both the fundamental particles and the force particles associated with the four forces of nature (the strong and weak nuclear forces, electromagnetism, and gravity)—are a reflection of the various ways in which a string can vibrate. Just as the strings on a violin or on a piano have resonant frequencies at which they prefer to vibrate—patterns that our ears sense as various musical notes and their higher harmonics—the same holds true for the loops of string theory. But rather than producing musical notes, each of the preferred mass and force charges are determined by the string’s oscillatory pattern. The electron is a string vibrating one way, the up-quark is a string vibrating another way, and so on.

Far from being a collection of chaotic experimental facts, particle properties in string theory are the manifestation of one and the same physical feature: the resonant patterns of vibration—the music, so to speak—of fundamental loops of string. The same idea applies to the forces of nature as well. Force particles are also associated with particular patterns of string vibration and hence everything, all matter and all forces, is unified under the same rubric of microscopic string oscillations—the “notes” that strings can play.

read more – http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/elegant/everything.html