The trouble with string theory, physicists will tell you, is that it's just that: an elegant and compelling theory. No proof has yet come to light that would verify its extra-dimensional concept of the universe, which posits ten dimensions -- six in addition to the four we can currently perceive -- curled into tiny shapes at every point in the cosmos. Sounds impossible to imagine, doesn't it? But scientists working at the University of Wisconsin-Madison have developed an approach that just might help us pull back the veil on all that hidden geometry.
A new study demonstrates that the shapes of extra dimensions can be "seen" by deciphering their influence on cosmic energy released by the violent birth of the universe 13 billion years ago. Just as a shadow can give an idea of the shape of an object, the pattern of cosmic energy in the sky can give an indication of the shape of the other six dimensions present. "Our results with simple, well-understood shapes give proof of concept that the geometry of hidden dimensions can be deciphered from the pattern of cosmic energy," UW physicist Gary Shiu said. "This provides a rare opportunity in which string theory can be tested."
Pictured is a computer-generated model of a possible six-dimensional geometric object. (Once you get your mind around that, pass whatever it is you're smoking!) While it's all still theoretical at this point, technological advances in cosmic mapping may well build on this work to develop an accurate geometry of the universe -- and so the Big Bang could help us unlock science's biggest mysteries.