[Paleopsych] Michio Kaku: Could a hole in space save man from extinction?
checker at panix.com
Thu Feb 3 20:16:10 UTC 2005
Could a hole in space save man from extinction?
In the next decade, powerful satellites will help us to understand
life, the fate of our universe and the 'theory of everything', says
The great 19th-century biologist Thomas Huxley once wrote that the
"question of all questions for humanity... is that of the
determination of man's place in Nature and his relation to the
Other earthlings: In 2014 the Planet Finder will begin hunting for
small, Earth-like planets
We might soon be able to provide the answer to this huge riddle as a
battery of instruments - including satellites, gravity wave detectors
and laser devices - not only begins to give us startling insights into
our place in the cosmos, but also forces us to confront the birth and
final death of the universe - and even the possible existence of
In the next decade, powerful new satellites will find evidence of
Earth-like twins orbiting other stars.
So far, our instruments are so crude that we can only detect about 130
giant, Jupiter-sized planets, which are probably devoid of life. In
2006, the Kepler satellite will be launched with a mission to analyse
100,000 stars for large planets.
But in 2014, the Terrestrial Planet Finder will begin to hunt for
small, Earth-like planets in 500 star systems with a telescope
designed to screen out the mother stars, whose light otherwise
overwhelms the faint radiation from any nearby planets.
If these efforts pay off, people will have an existential shock,
knowing that, when gazing at these twins in the night sky, there might
be someone looking back. The thought of detecting intelligence in the
universe is exhilarating to most scientists.
However, as science fiction writer Arthur C Clarke once cautioned:
"There may be intelligent life in space or not. Either thought is
Cosmology, our understanding of the universe, might be revolutionised
when the Lisa (Laser Interferometry Space Antenna) is launched in
It will orbit the Sun at the same distance as the Earth, but trailing
us by 30 million miles. Consisting of three satellites linked by laser
beams, it will form a huge triangle of laser light about three million
miles on each side.
If a gravity wave from space hits this triangle, it will cause a tiny
distortion in the laser beams, which will be detectable by its
instruments. (Lisa will detect optical distortions one hundredth the
size of an atom.)
Lisa should be able to detect cosmic explosions nine billion light
years from Earth, which cut across much of the visible universe, as
well as colliding black holes and even the shock waves emitted a
trillionth of a second after the Big Bang, which are still circulating
around the universe.
Hence it might be capable of resolving the most perplexing and
stubborn question facing cosmology: what happened before the instant
In the various pre-Big Bang theories that have been proposed, each
predicts a different type of shock wave of gravity emitted once the
explosion takes place.
Lisa, by analysing the precise frequencies and wave-like patterns of
the gravity waves emitted at the instant of the Big Bang, should be
able to distinguish between them and prove or disprove the theories.
So far, the leading theory is called "inflation" and postulates an
unbelievably fast, turbo-charged expansion of the early universe after
the Big Bang of creation.
However, if the inflation process happened once, it can happen again.
The latest version of this is called "chaotic inflation", in which big
bangs can happen randomly.
Like soap bubbles that split and sprout other soap bubbles, universes
can bud and create new "baby universes". In this picture, big bangs
are happening all the time, even as you read this article.
But to understand what caused inflation, physicists have to reach for
a theory that can incorporate both gravity and all known forms of
radiation - the so-called "theory of everything".
The only candidate for this is called string theory, or M-theory, in
which universes can float in 11-dimensional hyperspace in a
"multiverse" of universes.
Imagine two parallel sheets of paper; ants on one sheet would be
invisible to ants on the other, yet they are separated by a few
inches. Similarly, if a parallel universe hovered a millimetre from
ours in another dimension, it would be invisible.
As fantastic as these theories are, Lisa might be able to prove or
disprove them because each of them leaves behind a different
"fingerprint" or pattern of gravity waves when the Big Bang occurs.
Ominously, satellites are also giving us a glimpse into the ultimate
fate of the universe. Philosophers have wondered if the universe will
die in fire or ice. The data overwhelmingly favour the Big Freeze
rather than a Big Crunch.
The universe, in fact, is not slowing down, but accelerating,
careering out of control in runaway mode. A mysterious form of energy,
dubbed "dark energy", is acting like an anti-gravity force that is
pushing the galaxies apart, causing the universe to accelerate
uncontrollably and eventually blowing it apart.
Michio Kaku: professor of theoretical physics
In the distant future, billions to trillions of years from now, the
stars will exhaust their nuclear fuel, the oceans will freeze, the
universe will turn dark and temperatures will plunge to almost zero.
It appears inevitable that all intelligent life will perish when the
universe itself freezes over.
This possibility of "unyielding despair" was explored by the
mathematician Bertrand Russell, who wrote, in one of the most
depressing passages in the English language, that "no fire, no
heroism, no intensity of thought or feeling, can preserve a life
beyond the grave... all the labours of the ages, all the devotion, all
the inspiration, all the noonday brightness of human genius, are
destined to extinction in the vast death of the solar system; and the
whole temple of Man's achievement must inevitably be buried beneath
the debris of a universe in ruins..."
Today, we believe that space arks might one day preserve life after
the death of the Sun in five billion years. But can you build a space
ark to escape the death of the universe itself?
The only possible way to avoid the death of the universe is to leave.
Perhaps civilisations billions of years ahead of ours will harness
enough energy to punch a hole in space and escape, in a
hyper-dimensional space ark, to a new universe.
Although it seems far-fetched, even preposterous, physicists have
seriously considered this possibility using the known laws of physics.
Einstein's equations, for example, allow for the possibility of
"Einstein-Rosen bridges" connecting two parallel universes. (Imagine
two horizontal parallel sheets of paper connected by a thin vertical
The energy necessary to create such a "wormhole" connecting two
universes is truly immense - the Planck energy, or 1019 billion
electron volts (a quadrillion times the energy of our largest atom
In desperation, an advanced civilisation might create huge banks of
laser beams and atom smashers to create the unbelievably intense
temperatures, energy and densities necessary to open up holes in space
and leave the universe.
Calculations show that these gigantic machines must be the size of
star systems, but this might be possible for civilisations billions of
years ahead of ours. Unfortunately, some preliminary calculations show
that the wormhole might only be microscopic in size. If so, an
advanced civilisation might resort to shooting molecular-sized robots,
called "nanobots", through the wormhole.
Once on the other side, these nanobots would then create huge DNA
factories to grow clones and replicas of their creators. Since they
would contain the entire database of their civilisation, they would
use this to resurrect it in another universe.
Although the physical bodies of these individuals will die when the
universe freezes over, their genetic twins will live on, so that their
civilisation, like a Phoenix, may flourish again.
As incredible as these scenarios are, they are consistent with the
known laws of physics and biology.
So, when contemplating the question raised by Huxley in 1863, our true
role in the universe might be to spread the precious germ of
intelligent life throughout it and, one day, to spread the seed of
life by leaving a dying universe for a warmer one.
Michio Kaku is professor of theoretical physics at the City University
of New York. This article is adapted from his forthcoming book,
Parallel Worlds (Penguin Books), which is published on February 3. To
order for £16.99 + £2.25 p&p, please call Telegraph Books Direct on
0870 155 7222.
Dr Kaku will be on tour in Britain at the end of the month: Mon Jan
31, 7.30pm, the ICA event at the London Planetarium, with Prof John
Barrow, tel: ICA Box Office 020 7930 3647 Tues Feb 1, 8pm, Borders
Bookshop, Cambridge, tel: 01223 306188 Wed Feb 2, 7pm, the Royal
Institution, London, tel: 020 7409 2992 Thurs Feb 3, 6pm ThinkTank,
Birmingham Science Museum, tel: 0121 202 2222
NASA - Terrestrial Planet Finder
Terrestrial Planet Finder
More information about the paleopsych