Physicists have unveiled what they say is a new, practical way to test for a transformative 'Theory of Everything'.
String theory is an eloquent but currently unproven theory which seeks to marry the physics of the very large (Relativity) and the small (quantum theory) - which otherwise seem outwardly incompatible.
The theory states the essential make-up of the universe is that of one-dimensional strings, which vibrate and give rise to the other states and dimensions, including those we experience.
Because those strings would be very, very small - quintillion times smaller than hydrogen atoms - there is no way to 'see' then directly, and until now no obvious way to test if the theory is true.
But now a team from Towson University have an idea, and their inspiration is - in scientific terms - very old school indeed. Namely, Galileo.
Their method, reported to the American Astronomical Society and Phys.org, is to look for discrepancies in the movement of the planets and their moons between what is observed and what is predicted by relativity.
The difference between those numbers might indicate the effects of string theory at work. This is because string theory models predict new fields, similar to gravity, which affect objects differently based on their composition. If we can see these variations, say in the movement of moons made of rock compared to moons made of ice, the idea goes, we can prove the existence of the strings.
"[We want to] detect cracks in general relativity that could be explained by string theory, with almost no strings attached," said Dr. James Overduin of the Department of Physics, Astronomy and Geosciences at Towson University.
Alas, so far there is no evidence that these differences are really observable. But the hope is that further study might give us a glimpse behind the curtain, into the true nature of whatever terrifyingly complex stuff of which the universe is really made.
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