Evidence of parallel universes?
They call it the multiverse. It’s a cosmos in which there are multiple universes. And by multiple, I mean an infinite number. These uncountable realms sit side by side in higher dimensions that our senses are incapable of perceiving directly.
Yet increasingly astronomers and cosmologists seem to be invoking the multiverse to explain puzzling observations.
The stakes are high. Each alternate universe carries its own different version of reality. There will be one where you wrote this column and I read it; one where the Guardian is an alt-right propaganda rag; even a really weird one in which Donald Trump uses twitter to spread nothing but amusing cat videos.
It sounds bonkers but the latest piece of evidence that could favour a multiverse comes from the UK’s Royal Astronomical Society. They recently published a study on the so-called ‘cold spot’. This is a particularly cool patch of space seen in the radiation produced by the formation of the Universe more than 13 billion years ago.
The cold spot was first glimpsed by NASA’s WMAP satellite in 2004, and then confirmed by ESA’s Planck mission in 2013. It is supremely puzzling. Most astronomers and cosmologists believe that it is highly unlikely to have been produced by the birth of the universe as it is mathematically difficult for the leading theory – which is called inflation – to explain.
This latest study claims to rule out a last-ditch prosaic explanation: that the cold spot is an optical illusion produced by a lack of intervening galaxies.
One of the study’s authors, Professor Tom Shanks of Durham University, told the RAS, “We can’t entirely rule out that the Spot is caused by an unlikely fluctuation explained by the standard [theory of the Big Bang]. But if that isn’t the answer, then there are more exotic explanations. Perhaps the most exciting of these is that the Cold Spot was caused by a collision between our universe and another bubble universe. If further, more detailed, analysis … proves this to be the case then the Cold Spot might be taken as the first evidence for the multiverse.”
Heady stuff. But the irony is that if there is a multiverse, scientists will have to accept that the ultimate goal of physics – to explain why our universe is the way it is – could be forever out of reach.