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The second multiverse theory arises from our best ideas about how our own Universe began. According to the predominant view of the Big Bang, the Universe began as an infinitesimally tiny point and then expanded incredibly fast in a super-heated fireball.
A fraction of a second after this expansion began, it may have fleetingly accelerated at a truly enormous rate, far faster than the speed of light. This burst is called "inflation". There are many, perhaps infinitely many, universes appearing and growing all the time Inflationary theory explains why the Universe is relatively uniform everywhere we look.
Inflation blew up the fireball to a cosmic scale before it had a chance to get too clumpy.
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However, that primordial state would have been ruffled by tiny chance variations, which also got blown up by inflation. These fluctuations are now preserved in the cosmic microwave background radiation, the faint afterglow of the Big Bang. This radiation pervades the Universe, but it is not perfectly uniform. Several satellite-based telescopes have mapped out these variations in fine detail, and compared them to those predicted by inflationary theory.
The match is almost unbelievably good, suggesting that inflation really did happen. View image of Just after the Big Bang Credit: The current view is that the Big Bang happened when a patch of ordinary space, containing no matter but filled with energy, appeared within a different kind of space called the "false vacuum". It then grew like an expanding bubble. Perhaps our Universe is simply one of a crowd But according to this theory, the false vacuum should also experience a kind of inflation, causing it to expand at fantastic speed.
Meanwhile, other bubble universes of "true vacuum" can appear within it — and not just, like our Universe, This scenario is called "eternal inflation". It suggests there are many, perhaps infinitely many, universes appearing and growing all the time.
But we can never reach them, even if we travel at the speed of light forever, because they are receding too fast for us ever to catch up. After Copernicus suggested Earth was just one planet among others, we realized that our Sun is just one star in our galaxy, and that other stars might have planets. Then we discovered that our galaxy is just one among countless more in an expanding Universe. And now perhaps our Universe is simply one of a crowd.
View image of Credit: However, if eternal inflation does create a multiverse from an endless series of Big Bangs, it could help to resolve one of the biggest problems in modern physics. The fundamental constants of the laws of physics seem bizarrely fine-tuned to the values needed for life to exist Some physicists have long been searching for a " theory of everything ": But they have found there are more alternatives to choose from than there are fundamental particles in the known universe.
Many physicists who delve into these waters believe that an idea called string theory is the best candidate for a "final theory". But the latest version offers a huge number of distinct solutions: Each solution yields its own set of physical laws, and we have no obvious reason to prefer one over any other.
The inflationary multiverse relieves us of the need to choose at all. If parallel universes have been popping up in an inflating false vacuum for billions of years, each could have different physical laws, determined by one of these many solutions to string theory.
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If that is true, it could help us explain a strange property of our own Universe. View image of Bubble universes Credit: Things have to be the way we find them: Similarly, there is a delicate balance between gravity, which pulls matter towards itself, and so-called dark energy, which does the opposite and makes the Universe expand ever faster.
This is just what is needed to make stars possible while not collapsing the Universe on itself. In this and several other ways, the Universe seems fine-tuned to host us. This has made some people suspect the hand of God. Yet an inflationary multiverse, in which all conceivable physical laws operate somewhere, offers an alternative explanation. View image of Other universes might be different to ours Credit: In the far more numerous universes that are set up differently, there is no one to ask the question.
For many physicists and philosophers, this argument is a cheat: How can we test these assertions, they ask? Surely it is defeatist to accept that there is no reason why the laws of nature are what they are, and simply say that in other universes they are different?
The trouble is, unless you have some other explanation for fine-tuning, someone will assert that God must have set things up this way. The astrophysicist Bernard Carr has put it bluntly: View image of Two branes collide, creating a new universe Credit: In he proposed that universes might reproduce and evolve rather like living things do. On Earth, natural selection favours the emergence of "useful" traits such as fast running or opposable thumbs.
In the multiverse, Smolin argues, there might be some pressure that favours universes like ours. He calls this "cosmological natural selection". The mother universe can do this if it contains black holes.
View image of A black hole Credit: It is a neat idea, because our Universe then does not have to be the product of pure chance In the s, Stephen Hawking and Roger Penrose pointed out that this collapse is like a mini-Big Bang in reverse.
This suggested to Smolin that a black hole could become a Big Bang, spawning an entire new universe within itself. If that is so, then the new universe might have slightly different physical properties from the one that made the black hole. This is like the random genetic mutations that mean baby organisms are different from their parents.
If a baby universe has physical laws that permit the formation of atoms, stars and life, it will also inevitably contain black holes.
That will mean it can have more baby universes of its own. Over time, universes like this will become more common than those without black holes, which cannot reproduce. View image of Could one universe create others? If a fine-tuned universe arose at random, surrounded by many other universes that were not fine-tuned, cosmic natural selection would mean that fine-tuned universes subsequently became the norm.
So far, there is no evidence that this is the case The details of the idea are a little woolly, but Smolin points out that it has one big advantage: For example, if Smolin is right we should expect our Universe to be especially suited to making black holes. This is a rather more demanding criterion than simply saying it should support the existence of atoms.
But so far, there is no evidence that this is the case — let alone proof that a black hole really can spawn an entirely new universe. View image of Extra dimensions could be curled up Credit: What might be in there?
A hidden universe, maybe? Perhaps the fifth dimension was curled up into an unimaginably small distance This was nonsense. Einstein was not proposing a new dimension. What he was saying was that time is a dimension, similar to the three dimensions of space. All four are woven into a single fabric called space-time, which matter distorts to produce gravity. Even so, other physicists were already starting to speculate about genuinely new dimensions in space. The first intimation of hidden dimensions began with the work of the theoretical physicist Theodor Kaluza.
But where, then, was this extra dimension? The Swedish physicist Oskar Klein offered an answer in Perhaps the fifth dimension was curled up into an unimaginably small distance: In the modern version of string theory, known as M-theory, there are up to seven hidden dimensions The idea of a dimension being curled may seem strange, but it is actually a familiar phenomenon.
A garden hose is a three-dimensional object, but from far enough away it looks like a one-dimensional line, because the other two dimensions are so small. This seeks to explain fundamental particles as the vibrations of even smaller entities called strings.
When string theory was developed in the s, it turned out that it could only work if there were extra dimensions.
In the modern version of string theory, known as M-theory, there are up to seven hidden dimensions. They can be extended regions called branes short for "membranes" , which may be multi-dimensional. If branes collide, the results could be monumental A brane might be a perfectly adequate hiding place for an entire universe.
M-theory postulates a multiverse of branes of various dimensions, coexisting rather like a stack of papers. If this is true, there should be a new class of particles called Kaluza-Klein particles. In theory we could make them, perhaps in a particle accelerator like the Large Hadron Collider.
They would have distinctive signatures, because some of their momentum is carried in the hidden dimensions. These brane worlds should remain quite distinct and separate from each other, because forces like gravity do not pass between them.
But if branes collide, the results could be monumental. Conceivably, such a collision could have triggered our own Big Bang. It has also been proposed that gravity, uniquely among the fundamental forces, might "leak" between branes.
This leakage could explain why gravity is so weak compared to the other fundamental forces. If their idea is true, there is an awful lot of space out there for other universes As Lisa Randall of Harvard University puts it: In effect this means that a brane "concentrates" gravity, so that it looks weak in a second brane nearby.
This could also explain why we could live on a brane with infinite extra dimensions without noticing them. If their idea is true, there is an awful lot of space out there for other universes. View image of This cat is both dead and alive Credit: