Vikings in Nunavut?

One of Canada’s top Arctic archeologists says the remnants of a stone-and-sod wall unearthed on southern Baffin Island may be traces of a shelter built more than 700 years ago by Norse seafarers – a stunning find that would be just the second location in the New World with evidence of a Viking-built structure.

The tantalizing signs of a possible medieval Norse presence in Nunavut were found at the previously examined Nanook archeological site, about 200 km southwest of Iqaluit, where people of the now-extinct Dorset culture once occupied a stretch of Hudson Strait shoreline.

A UNESCO World Heritage site at northern Newfoundland’s L’Anse aux Meadows – about 1,500 km southeast of the Nanook dig – is the only confirmed location of a Viking settlement in North America. There, about 1,000 years ago, it’s believed a party of Norse voyagers from Greenland led by Leif Eiriksson built several sod-and-wood dwellings before abandoning their colonization attempt under threat from hostile natives they called “Skraelings.”

But over the past 10 years, research teams led by the Canadian Museum of Civilization’s chief of Arctic archeology, Pat Sutherland, have compiled evidence from field studies and archived collections that strongly suggests the Norse presence in northern Canada didn’t end with Eiriksson’s retreat from Newfoundland.

At three sites on Baffin Island, which the Norse called “Helluland” or “land of stone slabs”, and at another in northern Labrador, the researchers have documented dozens of suspected Norse artifacts such as Scandinavian-style spun yarn, distinctively notched and decorated wood objects and whetstones for sharpening knives and axes.

A single human tooth from one of the sites was tested a few years ago for possible European DNA, but the results were inconclusive.

Among the new artifacts found near the sod-and-stone features at Nanook is a whalebone spade – consistent with tools found at Norse sites in Greenland, and which might have been used to cut sections of turf for the shelter.

There is also evidence at Nanook of what appears to be a rock-lined drainage system comparable to ones found at proven Viking sites.

The apparent “architectural elements” found at the site “still have to be confirmed,” Sutherland told Canwest News Service. “They’re definitely anomalous for Dorset culture. And when you see these things in connection with Norse artifacts, it suggests that there may have been some kind of a shore station.”

Sutherland’s theory is that Norse sailors continued to travel between Greenland and Arctic Canada for generations after the failed colonization bid in Newfoundland. She believes they encountered and possibly traded with the Dorset, ancient aboriginals who were later overrun – probably before 1400 A.D. – by the eastward-migrating Thule ancestors of modern Inuit.

The theory is a controversial one.

University of Waterloo archeologist Robert Park recently challenged the dating of artifacts and Sutherland’s interpretations of evidence in a paper published by the journal Antiquity.

Park argues that the “most plausible explanation” for Norse-like traces at Nanook and other sites is that “none of these traits come from Dorset-European contact.”

He suggests such items may have been developed without any Norse influence by the ancient indigenous inhabitants of northern Canada.

“Despite the difficulty of proving a negative – i.e. establishing that Dorset did not come into contact with the Norse – on the basis of these data there appears to be no convincing archeological evidence that contact occurred,” Park concludes.

Sutherland insists that while proof of Norse-Dorset interaction isn’t overwhelming, there are now “several lines of evidence” pointing to sustained contact. And she notes that the kind of “boulders and turf” structural feature observed at Nanook is “atypical for Dorset” and consistent with Norse culture.

“I think in any scientific field, when something new comes along that hasn’t been given much consideration in the past, it generates debate,” she said.

Sutherland, whose research is also featured in the current issue of Canadian Geographic, said a scientific paper summarizing a decade’s worth of work on the national museum’s Helluland project is due to be published in August.

Further field work at a Dorset site in northern Labrador is scheduled for 2010, she added.

http://www.dose.ca/news/story.html?id=1632232

Giant blob found deep beneath Nevada

Hidden beneath the U.S. West’s Great Basin, scientists have spied a giant blob of rocky material dripping like honey.

The Great Basin consists of small mountain ranges separated by valleys and includes most of Nevada, the western half of Utah and portions of other nearby states.

While studying the area, John West of Arizona State University and his colleagues found evidence of a large cylindrical blob of cold material far below the surface of central Nevada. Comparison of the results with CAT scans of the inside of Earth taken by ASU’s Jeff Roth suggested they had found a so-called lithospheric drip. (Earth’s lithosphere comprises the crust or outer layer of Earth and the uppermost mantle.)

Here’s how it works: “The Earth’s mantle, which lies below the thin outer crust we live on, consists of rock which deforms plastically on very long time scales due to the heat and pressure at depth,” West said. “In any material which can flow (including the mantle), a heavy object will tend to sink through lighter material.”

And this is what the scientists think is happening with the lithospheric drip. A region of heavier material trapped in the lithosphere gets warmed up and begins to sink into the lighter, less dense mantle beneath, pulling a long tail of material after it.

“Honey dripping off of a spoon is a visual aid to what we think the drip looks like,” West told LiveScience. “Dripping honey tends to lead with a large blob of honey, with a long tail of material following the initial blob.”

He said the blob is between about 30 miles and 60 miles in diameter (between 50 km and 100 km) and extends from a depth of about 47 miles to at least 310 miles (75 km to 500 km) beneath Earth’s surface.

The team thinks this drip started some 15 million to 20 million years ago and probably detached from the overlying plate only recently.

At first, it was hard for the team to reconcile their discovery with what scientists knew about the region. Over the past tens of millions of years, the Earth’s crust in the Great Basin has undergone extension, or stretching.

“We wondered how you could have something like a drip that is drawing material into its center when the surface of the whole area is stretching apart,” said ASU researcher Matthew Fouch. “But it turns out that there is an area right above the drip, in fact the only area in the Great Basin, that is currently undergoing contraction.”

Last year, Arizona State University Allen McNamara explained how Earth is not neatly divided into a crust, mantle and core. Rather, several large blobs of highly compressed rock – which he described as behaving like honey or peanut butter -  exist.

The researchers’ analyses suggest the newfound drip won’t cause the area to sink down or pop up quickly; nor will it cause earthquakes. In fact, they say there would probably be little or no impact on people living above the drip.

The research, funded by the National Science Foundation, is detailed in the May 24 issue of the journal Nature Geoscience.

http://news.mobile.msn.com/en-us/articles.aspx?afid=1&aid=30949358

The Sun is Stirring

NASA’s STEREO-B spacecraft is monitoring an active region hidden behind the sun’s eastern limb. On May 5th, it produced an impressive coronal mass ejection (CME, movie) and a burst of Type II radio emissions caused by a shock wave plowing through the sun’s outer atmosphere.

Activity has continued apace today, May 6th, with at least two more eruptions (stay tuned for movies). Furthermore, the most recent UV images from STEREO-B reveal not just one but two active regions: image.

At the root of all this activity is probably a complex of sunspots. The region is not yet visible from Earth, but the sun is turning it toward us for a better view. Readers with solar telescopes should keep an eye on sun’s northeastern limb for an emergence on May 7th or 8th.

http://spaceweather.com

New Gamma-Ray Burst Smashes Cosmic Distance Record

ScienceDaily (Apr. 28, 2009) — NASA’s Swift satellite and an international team of astronomers have found a gamma-ray burst from a star that died when the universe was only 630 million years old, or less than five percent of its present age. The event, dubbed GRB 090423, is the most distant cosmic explosion ever seen.

“Swift was designed to catch these very distant bursts,” said Swift lead scientist Neil Gehrels at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. “The incredible distance to this burst exceeded our greatest expectations — it was a true blast from the past.”

At 3:55 a.m. EDT on April 23, Swift detected a ten-second-long gamma-ray burst of modest brightness. It quickly pivoted to bring its ultraviolet/optical and X-ray telescopes to observe the burst location. Swift saw a fading X-ray afterglow but none in visible light.

“The burst most likely arose from the explosion of a massive star,” said Derek Fox at Pennsylvania State University. “We’re seeing the demise of a star — and probably the birth of a black hole — in one of the universe’s earliest stellar generations.”

Gamma-ray bursts are the universe’s most luminous explosions. Most occur when massive stars run out of nuclear fuel. As their cores collapse into a black hole or neutron star, gas jets — driven by processes not fully understood — punch through the star and blast into space. There, they strike gas previously shed by the star and heat it, which generates short-lived afterglows in many wavelengths.

“The lack of visible light alone suggested this could be a very distant object,” explained team member Edo Berger of Harvard University.

Beyond a certain distance, the expansion of the universe shifts all optical emission into longer infrared wavelengths. While a star’s ultraviolet light could be similarly shifted into the visible region, ultraviolet-absorbing hydrogen gas grows thicker at earlier times. “If you look far enough away, you can’t see visible light from any object,” he noted.

Within three hours of the burst, Nial Tanvir at the University of Leicester, U.K., and his colleagues reported detection of an infrared source at the Swift position using the United Kingdom Infrared Telescope on Mauna Kea, Hawaii. “Burst afterglows provide us with the most information about the exploded star and its environs,” Tanvir said. “But because afterglows fade out so fast, we must target them quickly.”

At the same time, Fox led an effort to obtain infrared images of the afterglow using the Gemini North Telescope on Mauna Kea. The source appeared in longer-wavelength images but was absent in an image taken at the shortest wavelength of 1 micron. This “drop out” corresponded to a distance of about 13 billion light-years.

As Fox spread the word about the record distance, telescopes around the world slewed toward GRB 090423 to observe the afterglow before it faded away.

At the Galileo National Telescope on La Palma in the Canary Islands, a team including Guido Chincarini at the University of Milan-Bicocca, Italy, determined that the afterglow’s so-called redshift was 8.2. Tanvir’s team, gathering nearly simultaneous observations using one of the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescopes on Cerro Paranal, Chile, arrived at the same number. The burst exploded 13.035 billion light-years away.

“It’s an incredible find,” Chincarini said. “What makes it even better is that a telescope named for Galileo made this measurement during the year in which we celebrate the 400th anniversary of Galileo’s first astronomical use of the telescope.”

A few hours later, Tanvir’s team confirmed the distance using one of the European Very Large Telescopes on Cerro Paranal in Chile.

The previous record holder was a burst seen in September 2008. It showed a redshift of 6.7, which places it 190 million light-years closer than GRB 090423.

Gamma-ray bursts are discovered by telescopes in space. After releasing their intense burst of high-energy radiation, they become detectable for a short while in the optical and in the near-infrared. This ‘afterglow’ fades very rapidly, making detailed analysis possible for only a few hours after the gamma-ray detection. This analysis is important in particular in order to determine the GRB’s distance and, hence, intrinsic brightness.

Gamma-ray bursts are the universe’s most luminous explosions. Most occur when massive stars run out of nuclear fuel. As their cores collapse into a black hole or neutron star, gas jets — driven by processes not fully understood — punch through the star and blast into space. There, they strike gas previously shed by the star and heat it, which generates short-lived afterglows in many wavelengths.

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/04/090428092558.htm

More debris threatens the International Space Station

For the second time in less than a week, a piece of orbiting space junk may threaten the International Space Station.

NASA said today that a piece of a Russian satellite could come within about a half-mile of the ISS early tomorrow. A decision will be made later today to fire the station’s engines to move it from the path of the debris.

Lt. Col. Michael Fincke, an Emsworth native, commands the International Space Station.

If the ISS is moved, space shuttle Discovery, which is en route to the station with seven astronauts, also will have to adjust its path so it can dock tomorrow.

The space station crew on Thursday took shelter inside a docked Russian escape capsule when a small piece of an old spacecraft engine passed within three miles of the ISS. The crew remained in the Soyuz capsule only for about 11 minutes and never sealed the cabin door.

http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/09075/955985-100.stm

Oldest human footprints found in Kenya

*I am currently writing an essay on human origins. This fits well with my original theories.*

Two sets of prints left by Homo ergaster, an early ancestor of modern humans. were found in separate rock layers near Ileret.

Laser scanning revealed that feet have stayed much the same over 1.5 million years and the creature walked the same way as people do today.

The prints bore all the hallmarks of a modern human stride, including an arched foot, short toes, and a big toe that was parallel to the other toes.

As in modern humans, weight was transferred from the heel to the ball of the foot and then to the big toe with each step.

The find is the first of its kind since the famous discovery 30 years ago of footprints dating back 3.75 million years at Laetoli, Tanzania.

These older prints are thought to have been left by the more primitive and apelike Australopithecus.

Although this creature also appears to have walked upright, it had a shallow arch and a splayed big toe characteristic of apes.

The Ileret prints, pressed into solidified layers of ancient mud, consisted of an upper and lower set five metres apart.

The top layer contained three trails – two of two prints each, one of seven prints, and a number of isolated prints.

The deeper layer preserved one trail of two prints and a single isolated smaller print that may have been left by a child.

Scientists led by Dr Matthew Bennett, from the University of Bournemouth in Poole, scanned the prints and compared them with those of modern humans and the Laetoli prints.

They wrote in the journal Science: “The Ileret prints show that by 1.5 million years, hominids had evolved an essentially modern human foot function and style of bipedal locomotion.”

Homo ergaster, often known as early Homo erectus, was the first “human” to have long legs and short arms like modern Homo sapiens.

Various remains of H. ergaster/erectus have been found in Tanzania, Kenya, and South Africa, where human beings first evolved.

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/africaandindianocean/kenya/4860752/Oldest-Human-footprints-found-in-Kenya.html

Evidence Of Solar Manipulation? And Solar Changes?

The odds are astronomical (no pun intended) that a sudden change of inactivity would happen EXACTLY at midnight, after more than a week of no real X-Ray activity. It appears that someone or something was making their capabilities known to alter the Sun’s operation. Such technology is more dangerous than the biggest collection of atomic weapons any country could have. Tinkering with Solar activity can result in unpredictable, grave and irreversible damage to Earth.
Tick marks along the bottom axis of each chart represent 3 hour intervals on all charts.

1_26_09_xrays

NASA has claimed in the past they don’t understand (?) why the red line (GOES 10 in Fig. 1) has remained a flat line for more over a year now. Perhaps the real reason is because there is no longer any real measureable energy at that wavelength. If so, this marks a very important change in the way our Sun is functioning.
Shortly after high noon (UTC) on January 24, a tiny blip appears in Fig. 1. Apparently the satellite was detecting something at this wavelength. Yet while recent activity for the same satellite which was measuring activity at shorter wavelengths of .5 to 4.0A, we still see no activity on the red line. Is it possible there reason for a flat red line is the result of a problem in the satellite?
In the drawing below (Fig. 3) we see that satellite architecture doesn’t use a separate sensor for different wavelengths. The X-Ray sensor uses one sensor with rotating wheel containing plastic and metal filters (labled as Entrance Filters in Fig. 3) to filter various X-Ray wavelengths. These filters are all opaque to heat (infrared), ultraviolet and visible light. Any argument that the wheel isn’t rotating clearly cannot apply here – if the wheel were unable to rotate, then neither wavelength would be detected correctly, or both charts would have exactly the same plots if the filter could not move. This deduction is made in the absence of NASA announcing that a technical problem occured with the filter wheel, which to date hasn’t been made to my knowledge.

xray_sensor

In summary, it appears that when Solar magnetic activity was altered just before midnight (UTC) it caused the Hp value to peak almost exactly at midnight (Fig. 4.) Apparently the external influence by someone or something also increased X-Ray output at almost exactly the same time (Fig. 1.) This indicates someone or some government is in posession of highly advanced technology and they are using it for some purpose.
Also interesting is that solar activity is completely unrelated to whatever time it may be on Earth. Our measure of time comes from an arbitrary decision to use Greenwich, England as the ordinate (starting) point for all 24 hour time on Earth. The Sun could not possibly be influenced by such a decision, as this decision was made many decades ago and is non-physical.
Another nail in the coffin of global warming.
Perhaps manufacturers of sun blocking lotion will ultimately see their market “dry up.”

http://rense.com/general84/solar.htm

Researchers Try to Cure Racism

*Scary precedent. I suppose they will be able to cure all of our loony conspiracy theories, as well?*

As the first African-American president in United States history takes office, researchers have shown that it may be possible to scientifically reduce racial bias.

After being trained to distinguish between similar black male faces, Caucasian test subjects showed greater racial tolerance on a test designed to to measure unconscious bias.

The results are still preliminary, have yet to be replicated, and the real-world effects of reducing bias in a controlled laboratory setting are not clear. But for all those caveats, the findings add to a growing body of research suggesting that science can battle racism.

“Any time you can get people to treat people as individuals, you reduce the effect of stereotypes,” said Brown University cognitive scientist Michael Tarr. “It won’t solve racism, but it could have profound real-world effects.”

Tarr’s findings overlap with other results suggesting that the key to reducing racial bias — at least in a short-term, laboratory setting — is exposure to people in personalized ways that challenge stereotypes. This is hardly a new notion: it’s the essence of the contact hypothesis, formulated in the mid-20th century and the basis of integrated schooling.

But unlike carefully structured social mixing, with precisely controlled conditions of interdependence and equality, Tarr and others raise the possibility of a a lab-based shortcut to bias reduction.

Underpinning this research is the Implicit Association Test, used by psychologists to measure deep-rooted, often unconscious biases. During the test, subjects are measured on the time it takes to associate faces with positive or negative words. If, for example, someone more quickly associates negative words with minority rather than white faces, they’re likely to have a bias — a bias that translates into a tendency to hire same-race workers, choose same-race partners, and find minority defendants guilty.

If the bias can be changed, perhaps the behavior will follow.

“The entire idea of neural plasticity is a new one. We didn’t think that the brain was capable of change as we now know it to be,” said Mahzarin Banaji, a Harvard University psychologist whose online Project Implicit has administered 4.5 million bias tests in the last decade. “The bias stuff we learn is heading in that direction, telling us that there is the ability to change.”

“It’s remarkable that our brain is so flexible that 10 hours of training will affect something that is the product of your whole life experience,” said Tarr, who hopes his work will lead to race training for people working in potentially race-sensitive situations, such as police officers, social workers and immigration officials.

In a study published Tuesday in Public Library of Science ONE, Tarr’s team put 20 Caucasian college students through ten hours of face-identification training, testing their ability to discern previously-seen from unknown faces. Students with the largest improvements in face memory also showed significant improvements on a variation of the Implicit Association Test.

According to Banaji, a brief talk about working for women suffices to reduce gender bias. City University of New York psychologist Curtis Hardin showed that having black experimenters administer a test produced lower bias scores among white subjects.

In one of the few attempts to measure bias change and brain activity, Princeton University psychologist Susan Fiske simultaneously presented test subjects with pictures of black people and vegetables. When asked what the person in the picture liked to eat, activity in the amygdala — a brain region that modulates fear — subsided.

“Amygdala activation goes away as soon as you start to think of people as individuals,” said Fiske.

These results are promising, but it’s too soon to say whether they’re long-lasting, or will translate to real-world improvements in behavior.

“Our biggest concern is that if we have participants come into a lab and do some exercises, then the context is so specific that it may only work if they see an African-American in a lab,” said Bertram Gawronski, a University of Western Ontario cognitive scientist. “It’s really important that it’s done in different contexts, and that people are repeatedly bombarded with counter-attitudinal information.”

For at least the next four years, however, the United States will collectively undergo a real-world experiment in stereotype defiance.

“The first black president — that’s going to have a huge effect on things that come to mind,” said Ohio State University psychologist Richard Petty. “Instead of just negative associations, there will be all sorts of positive associations.”

Let’s just hope they last.

http://blog.wired.com/wiredscience/2009/01/racetraining.html

Meteor-a-thon!

A spectacular meteor spotted over Scandinavia on Saturday is likely to have landed in the Baltic Sea, south of Denmark

http://www.cphpost.dk/news/scitech/92-technology/44478-weekend-meteor-very-unusual.html

Breaking News: Millions see UFO crash, Saudi Arabia

http://www.allnewsweb.com/page1901903.php

Meh, I know there have been other accouts, I cannot find them currently…

Our world may be a giant hologram

*Not a big surprise to a few of us, eh?*

DRIVING through the countryside south of Hanover, it would be easy to miss the GEO600 experiment. From the outside, it doesn’t look much: in the corner of a field stands an assortment of boxy temporary buildings, from which two long trenches emerge, at a right angle to each other, covered with corrugated iron. Underneath the metal sheets, however, lies a detector that stretches for 600 metres.

For the past seven years, this German set-up has been looking for gravitational waves – ripples in space-time thrown off by super-dense astronomical objects such as neutron stars and black holes. GEO600 has not detected any gravitational waves so far, but it might inadvertently have made the most important discovery in physics for half a century.

For many months, the GEO600 team-members had been scratching their heads over inexplicable noise that is plaguing their giant detector. Then, out of the blue, a researcher approached them with an explanation. In fact, he had even predicted the noise before he knew they were detecting it. According to Craig Hogan, a physicist at the Fermilab particle physics lab in Batavia, Illinois, GEO600 has stumbled upon the fundamental limit of space-time – the point where space-time stops behaving like the smooth continuum Einstein described and instead dissolves into “grains”, just as a newspaper photograph dissolves into dots as you zoom in. “It looks like GEO600 is being buffeted by the microscopic quantum convulsions of space-time,” says Hogan.

If this doesn’t blow your socks off, then Hogan, who has just been appointed director of Fermilab’s Center for Particle Astrophysics, has an even bigger shock in store: “If the GEO600 result is what I suspect it is, then we are all living in a giant cosmic hologram.”

The idea that we live in a hologram probably sounds absurd, but it is a natural extension of our best understanding of black holes, and something with a pretty firm theoretical footing. It has also been surprisingly helpful for physicists wrestling with theories of how the universe works at its most fundamental level.

The holograms you find on credit cards and banknotes are etched on two-dimensional plastic films. When light bounces off them, it recreates the appearance of a 3D image. In the 1990s physicists Leonard Susskind and Nobel prizewinner Gerard ‘t Hooft suggested that the same principle might apply to the universe as a whole. Our everyday experience might itself be a holographic projection of physical processes that take place on a distant, 2D surface.

The “holographic principle” challenges our sensibilities. It seems hard to believe that you woke up, brushed your teeth and are reading this article because of something happening on the boundary of the universe. No one knows what it would mean for us if we really do live in a hologram, yet theorists have good reasons to believe that many aspects of the holographic principle are true.

Susskind and ‘t Hooft’s remarkable idea was motivated by ground-breaking work on black holes by Jacob Bekenstein of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in Israel and Stephen Hawking at the University of Cambridge. In the mid-1970s, Hawking showed that black holes are in fact not entirely “black” but instead slowly emit radiation, which causes them to evaporate and eventually disappear. This poses a puzzle, because Hawking radiation does not convey any information about the interior of a black hole. When the black hole has gone, all the information about the star that collapsed to form the black hole has vanished, which contradicts the widely affirmed principle that information cannot be destroyed. This is known as the black hole information paradox.

Bekenstein’s work provided an important clue in resolving the paradox. He discovered that a black hole’s entropy – which is synonymous with its information content – is proportional to the surface area of its event horizon. This is the theoretical surface that cloaks the black hole and marks the point of no return for infalling matter or light. Theorists have since shown that microscopic quantum ripples at the event horizon can encode the information inside the black hole, so there is no mysterious information loss as the black hole evaporates.

Crucially, this provides a deep physical insight: the 3D information about a precursor star can be completely encoded in the 2D horizon of the subsequent black hole – not unlike the 3D image of an object being encoded in a 2D hologram. Susskind and ‘t Hooft extended the insight to the universe as a whole on the basis that the cosmos has a horizon too – the boundary from beyond which light has not had time to reach us in the 13.7-billion-year lifespan of the universe. What’s more, work by several string theorists, most notably Juan Maldacena at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, has confirmed that the idea is on the right track. He showed that the physics inside a hypothetical universe with five dimensions and shaped like a Pringle is the same as the physics taking place on the four-dimensional boundary.

According to Hogan, the holographic principle radically changes our picture of space-time. Theoretical physicists have long believed that quantum effects will cause space-time to convulse wildly on the tiniest scales. At this magnification, the fabric of space-time becomes grainy and is ultimately made of tiny units rather like pixels, but a hundred billion billion times smaller than a proton. This distance is known as the Planck length, a mere 10-35 metres. The Planck length is far beyond the reach of any conceivable experiment, so nobody dared dream that the graininess of space-time might be discernable.

That is, not until Hogan realised that the holographic principle changes everything. If space-time is a grainy hologram, then you can think of the universe as a sphere whose outer surface is papered in Planck length-sized squares, each containing one bit of information. The holographic principle says that the amount of information papering the outside must match the number of bits contained inside the volume of the universe.

Since the volume of the spherical universe is much bigger than its outer surface, how could this be true? Hogan realised that in order to have the same number of bits inside the universe as on the boundary, the world inside must be made up of grains bigger than the Planck length. “Or, to put it another way, a holographic universe is blurry,” says Hogan.

This is good news for anyone trying to probe the smallest unit of space-time. “Contrary to all expectations, it brings its microscopic quantum structure within reach of current experiments,” says Hogan. So while the Planck length is too small for experiments to detect, the holographic “projection” of that graininess could be much, much larger, at around 10-16 metres. “If you lived inside a hologram, you could tell by measuring the blurring,” he says.

When Hogan first realised this, he wondered if any experiment might be able to detect the holographic blurriness of space-time. That’s where GEO600 comes in.

Gravitational wave detectors like GEO600 are essentially fantastically sensitive rulers. The idea is that if a gravitational wave passes through GEO600, it will alternately stretch space in one direction and squeeze it in another. To measure this, the GEO600 team fires a single laser through a half-silvered mirror called a beam splitter. This divides the light into two beams, which pass down the instrument’s 600-metre perpendicular arms and bounce back again. The returning light beams merge together at the beam splitter and create an interference pattern of light and dark regions where the light waves either cancel out or reinforce each other. Any shift in the position of those regions tells you that the relative lengths of the arms has changed.

“The key thing is that such experiments are sensitive to changes in the length of the rulers that are far smaller than the diameter of a proton,” says Hogan.

So would they be able to detect a holographic projection of grainy space-time? Of the five gravitational wave detectors around the world, Hogan realised that the Anglo-German GEO600 experiment ought to be the most sensitive to what he had in mind. He predicted that if the experiment’s beam splitter is buffeted by the quantum convulsions of space-time, this will show up in its measurements (Physical Review D, vol 77, p 104031). “This random jitter would cause noise in the laser light signal,” says Hogan.

In June he sent his prediction to the GEO600 team. “Incredibly, I discovered that the experiment was picking up unexpected noise,” says Hogan. GEO600′s principal investigator Karsten Danzmann of the Max Planck Institute for Gravitational Physics in Potsdam, Germany, and also the University of Hanover, admits that the excess noise, with frequencies of between 300 and 1500 hertz, had been bothering the team for a long time. He replied to Hogan and sent him a plot of the noise. “It looked exactly the same as my prediction,” says Hogan. “It was as if the beam splitter had an extra sideways jitter.”

Incredibly, the experiment was picking up unexpected noise – as if quantum convulsions were causing an extra sideways jitter

No one – including Hogan – is yet claiming that GEO600 has found evidence that we live in a holographic universe. It is far too soon to say. “There could still be a mundane source of the noise,” Hogan admits.

Gravitational-wave detectors are extremely sensitive, so those who operate them have to work harder than most to rule out noise. They have to take into account passing clouds, distant traffic, seismological rumbles and many, many other sources that could mask a real signal. “The daily business of improving the sensitivity of these experiments always throws up some excess noise,” says Danzmann. “We work to identify its cause, get rid of it and tackle the next source of excess noise.” At present there are no clear candidate sources for the noise GEO600 is experiencing. “In this respect I would consider the present situation unpleasant, but not really worrying.”

For a while, the GEO600 team thought the noise Hogan was interested in was caused by fluctuations in temperature across the beam splitter. However, the team worked out that this could account for only one-third of the noise at most.

Danzmann says several planned upgrades should improve the sensitivity of GEO600 and eliminate some possible experimental sources of excess noise. “If the noise remains where it is now after these measures, then we have to think again,” he says.

If GEO600 really has discovered holographic noise from quantum convulsions of space-time, then it presents a double-edged sword for gravitational wave researchers. One on hand, the noise will handicap their attempts to detect gravitational waves. On the other, it could represent an even more fundamental discovery.

Such a situation would not be unprecedented in physics. Giant detectors built to look for a hypothetical form of radioactivity in which protons decay never found such a thing. Instead, they discovered that neutrinos can change from one type into another – arguably more important because it could tell us how the universe came to be filled with matter and not antimatter (New Scientist, 12 April 2008, p 26).

It would be ironic if an instrument built to detect something as vast as astrophysical sources of gravitational waves inadvertently detected the minuscule graininess of space-time. “Speaking as a fundamental physicist, I see discovering holographic noise as far more interesting,” says Hogan.

Small price to pay

Despite the fact that if Hogan is right, and holographic noise will spoil GEO600′s ability to detect gravitational waves, Danzmann is upbeat. “Even if it limits GEO600′s sensitivity in some frequency range, it would be a price we would be happy to pay in return for the first detection of the graininess of space-time.” he says. “You bet we would be pleased. It would be one of the most remarkable discoveries in a long time.”

However Danzmann is cautious about Hogan’s proposal and believes more theoretical work needs to be done. “It’s intriguing,” he says. “But it’s not really a theory yet, more just an idea.” Like many others, Danzmann agrees it is too early to make any definitive claims. “Let’s wait and see,” he says. “We think it’s at least a year too early to get excited.”

The longer the puzzle remains, however, the stronger the motivation becomes to build a dedicated instrument to probe holographic noise. John Cramer of the University of Washington in Seattle agrees. It was a “lucky accident” that Hogan’s predictions could be connected to the GEO600 experiment, he says. “It seems clear that much better experimental investigations could be mounted if they were focused specifically on the measurement and characterisation of holographic noise and related phenomena.”

One possibility, according to Hogan, would be to use a device called an atom interferometer. These operate using the same principle as laser-based detectors but use beams made of ultracold atoms rather than laser light. Because atoms can behave as waves with a much smaller wavelength than light, atom interferometers are significantly smaller and therefore cheaper to build than their gravitational-wave-detector counterparts.

So what would it mean it if holographic noise has been found? Cramer likens it to the discovery of unexpected noise by an antenna at Bell Labs in New Jersey in 1964. That noise turned out to be the cosmic microwave background, the afterglow of the big bang fireball. “Not only did it earn Arno Penzias and Robert Wilson a Nobel prize, but it confirmed the big bang and opened up a whole field of cosmology,” says Cramer.

Hogan is more specific. “Forget Quantum of Solace, we would have directly observed the quantum of time,” says Hogan. “It’s the smallest possible interval of time – the Planck length divided by the speed of light.”

More importantly, confirming the holographic principle would be a big help to researchers trying to unite quantum mechanics and Einstein’s theory of gravity. Today the most popular approach to quantum gravity is string theory, which researchers hope could describe happenings in the universe at the most fundamental level. But it is not the only show in town. “Holographic space-time is used in certain approaches to quantising gravity that have a strong connection to string theory,” says Cramer. “Consequently, some quantum gravity theories might be falsified and others reinforced.”

Hogan agrees that if the holographic principle is confirmed, it rules out all approaches to quantum gravity that do not incorporate the holographic principle. Conversely, it would be a boost for those that do – including some derived from string theory and something called matrix theory. “Ultimately, we may have our first indication of how space-time emerges out of quantum theory.” As serendipitous discoveries go, it’s hard to get more ground-breaking than that.

http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg20126911.300-our-world-may-be-a-giant-hologram.html?full=true