Soap suds and cosmic secrets

 作者:过毓喷     |      日期:2017-12-11 06:01:15
By Jennifer Ouellette The fate of the cosmos could lie in your bathtub. Or perhaps in your kitchen sink. At least that’s the view of Joseph Samuel and Supurna Sinha, physicists at the Raman Research Institute in Bangalore, India. They believe one of the most puzzling aspects of the universe could be explained by something as down-to-earth as soap bubbles. It’s all to do with the cosmological constant, a measure of the energy inherent in empty space. This “vacuum energy” causes space-time to push outwards on itself, a phenomenon that astronomers believe explains why the universe is expanding at ever faster rates. Its value determines whether the universe will accelerate gently forever or eventually rip itself to pieces. The trouble is, none of our best theories can explain the value of the cosmological constant: it is small, ridiculously small, but not zero. This has led Samuel and Sinha to draw an analogy between space-time and the surface tension of bubbles. It’s not as strange as it might seem. After all, “the cosmological constant is a kind of tension pervading space-time”, says Rafael Sorkin, a physicist at Syracuse University in New York state. Soap suds have been used to visualise the universe before. In 1986 astronomers Margaret Geller and John Huchra at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Massachusetts, analysed thousands of images of distant galaxies,