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Exploring a universe where nothing isn't empty

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Geplaatst op 26 juni 2009 - 12:50

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In our last bit of World Science Festival coverage, we discussed how inflation has produced an expanding, inhabitable universe. That still leaves the question of why that universe seems to be filled with strange stuff like virtual particles and dark energy. A different panel tackled that question and, in true quantum fashion, the session that described the contents of the universe came before the one that described its creation.

The session, which was moderated by radio host John Hockenberry, started out with a historical perspective on the fabric of the universe from Cambridge's John Barrow. Barrow described various views of whether it might be possible for a space to exist that was devoid of the sorts of matter we're familiar with. Reactions to the prospects, from the time of Aristotle onwards, were mixed, but they were primarily based on philosophical grounds. Things really didn't get close to our modern conception of a vacuum—one with states that could change over time—until the time of James Clerk Maxwell. The advent of quantum mechanics finally made the description and study of vacuum states a quantitative science.

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