The Incredibles

In January, two astronomers announced that, following the recent demotion of Pluto as the ninth planet, they may have discovered a replacement for it in the Kuiper Belt beyond Neptune’s orbit.  If they are right, according to their calculations the “new” planet’s orbit would take it as close as 20 billion miles to the sun and as far away as 100 billion miles.  The facts are impressive until one compares them with those relating to the galaxy MACSO647 JD, photographed by the Hubble space telescope, estimated at 13.3 billion light years from earth, which means it was formed 420 million years after the Big Bang.  Or those concerning the Pillars of Creation, columns of interstellar gas and dust in the Eagle Nebula 7,000 light years from earth, that were destroyed a millennium ago.  These phenomena, which strain the human imagination perhaps more even than we realize, are nevertheless apprehensible by the senses with the aid of advanced technology.  But beyond these observable marvels lie invisible phenomena whose existence physicists so far only suspect and can describe only in terms of particle theory, string theory, quantum gravity, and quantum physics.  According to one source, string theory suggests to physicists the existence of many possible universes arranged in a vast “landscape,” unimaginable to most people and probably even—except in the most theoretical way—to...

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