Saturday, December 3

message in the sky?

Combing through cosmic radiation could reveal a message from the universe's creator, if it has one, say two physicists.

According to theory, anyone could make a universe by squashing a lump of matter violently enough to replicate the big bang. And by tweaking something called the inflaton field, the creator—be it a physicist-hacker or a deity—could put a binary message in the cosmic microwave background (CMB) radiation. Or so argue Stephen Hsu of the University of Oregon, Eugene, and Anthony Zee of the University of California, Santa Barbara, in a paper at

The message might sit, like cosmic Braille, in the bumps and ripples of the CMB, they say. They calculate that it could hold up to 100,000 bits of information—enough to encode, say, clues to the long-sought grand unified theory that joins all the physical forces. Some people "think we are nuts," says Hsu. "I think it's a legitimate scientific question." Telescopes now in the works could detect such a message within 20 years, he says.

There's a hitch, though, says cosmologist Douglas Scott of the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada: Observers in other times or parts of the universe would see different patterns, so the creator would have to specify a time and place for deciphering the bumps.

(This is my new article in the 2 December Science.)


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