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The Energy of Empty Space != Zero 362

Posted by Hemos
from the mind-bending dept.
Raindeer writes "Lawrence Krauss (well-known physicist and author of The Science of Star Trek) invited a group of 21 cosmologists, experimentalists, theorists, and particle physicists and cosmologists. Stephen Hawking came; three Nobel laureates, Gerard 'tHooft, David Gross, Frank Wilczek etc. He wrote about the conclusions of this session in Edge; in short: 'there appears to be energy of empty space that isn't zero! This flies in the face of all conventional wisdom in theoretical particle physics. It is the most profound shift in thinking, perhaps the most profound puzzle, in the latter half of the 20th century. And it may be the first half of the 21st century, or maybe go all the way to the 22nd century. Because, unfortunately, I happen to think we won't be able to rely on experiment to resolve this problem.'"
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The Energy of Empty Space != Zero

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday July 10, 2006 @10:47AM (#15691108)
    Sorry, after reading this headline, I have the following going through my head:

    What shall we use
    to fill the empty spaces
    where we used to talk?
    How shall I fill
    The final places?
    How can I complete the wall?
  • New news? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by haluness (219661) on Monday July 10, 2006 @10:47AM (#15691110)
    I thought that this was previously known - isn't the Higgs field (http://hepwww.ph.qmul.ac.uk/epp/higgs1.html [qmul.ac.uk]) supposed to endow empty space with a non-zero energy? (Or maybe it was postulated but not observed)
    • Re:New news? (Score:5, Informative)

      by Danny Rathjens (8471) <slashdot2 AT rathjens DOT org> on Monday July 10, 2006 @11:12AM (#15691305)
      The Casimir Effect [wikipedia.org] has been observed/measured.
    • Re:New news? (Score:5, Interesting)

      by frankie (91710) on Monday July 10, 2006 @11:22AM (#15691385) Journal
      Yes, Krauss is talking about vacuum fluctuations and such, well-known concepts. The article is mainly him describing how freaked out he is that there are these two enourmous counter-balancing forces that almost but not quite perfectly cancel each other out, so that out at 120 decimal places there's a positive value left over.

      He then proceeds on to the standard "argument from conditional probability" where the universe has exactly these constants because if it didn't we wouldn't be here to see it. Which is a comfortable thing to believe but isn't predictive science.

      I'm guessing this essay is a seed for his next book.
    • I seem to recall reading about "zero-point energy" after watching "The Incredibles" on DVD with commentary and finding out that there actually is such a thing. Isn't this it?
  • Most people (Score:3, Funny)

    by Ramble (940291) on Monday July 10, 2006 @10:48AM (#15691115) Homepage
    Cool, now the space in most peoples head can be put to good use.
  • Zero-point energy? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by TheRaven64 (641858) on Monday July 10, 2006 @10:48AM (#15691116) Journal
    It sounds like they are talking about zero-point energy, the energy in the quantum vacuum. This has been known about by theoretical physicists for some time, and has even made it into popular science fiction. There is some debate, I believe, as to whether it is possible to extract this energy in a usable form, but its existence is hardly new.
    • by pHatidic (163975) on Monday July 10, 2006 @10:54AM (#15691166)
      Zero-point energy is predicted by both the leading quantum physics and relativity models. This is like 70 years old.
    • by tb()ne (625102)

      It sounds like they are talking about zero-point energy, the energy in the quantum vacuum. This has been known about by theoretical physicists for some time, and has even made it into popular science fiction. There is some debate, I believe, as to whether it is possible to extract this energy in a usable form, but its existence is hardly new.

      Debate? What debate? Syndrome clearly demonstrated the practical application of zero-point energy while thrashing Mr. Incredible.

    • by PIPBoy3000 (619296) on Monday July 10, 2006 @11:09AM (#15691281)
      The interesting part is not that it exists, but that if you apply the theory empty space has 120 orders of magnitude more energy than the visible universe. Still, you can take the same theory and apply it to a hydrogen atom and get a number that is validated by experiment to nine decimal points. So the big question is, how do you use the same theory (relativity and quantum mechanics) to make a great prediciton about hydrogen atoms and a terrible prediction about vaccuum energy?

      Still, the point of the article isn't about vaccuum energy, but rather the anthropic principle. The concept is that there's a constant in our universe that almost precisely cancels out this vaccuum energy. This is purely by chance and we see it because if it didn't happen, we wouldn't be around to talk about it.
    • by internic (453511) on Monday July 10, 2006 @11:35AM (#15691475)

      Here is a this very nice discussion of the zero-point energy [ucr.edu] by mathematical physicist John Baez. You're right, the idea is hardly new, but some of the experimental evidence about the cosmological constant is relatively new.

      I think it's fair to say that almost no physicists believe you can extract useful work from the vacuum energy. Most of the people claiming you can are con men trying to swindle people into buying "free energy devices" that supposedly tap the zero-point energy (it's the modern day incarnation of perpetual motion machines). While you may be able to setup a situation where the vacuum does work (i.e. with the Casamir force), I think it is simply less than or equal to the energy it took to put the apparatus together. Essentially, it's equivalent to sitting in a room with uniform atmospheric pressure and trying to use that atmospheric pressure to do work. You can certainly use a vessle with low or high pressure to do work, but you're never going to get out more energy than it took to create that high (or low) pressure. While one can think about this in terms of thermodynamics, that's really litte more than making concrete the common-sense proposition that you can't get something for nothing. Thus far, nature has not given us any good reason to abandon that idea.

      Sometimes people do talk about things like pair creation from the vacuum and the energy-time uncertainty relation, but they are speaking about virtual particles rather than actual particles. The bottom line here is that when you make a measurement, what you will find is actual particles and energy will be conserved, even according to quantum field theory.

      • by 0xABADC0DA (867955) on Monday July 10, 2006 @12:17PM (#15691777)
        A bug trap uses no energy and does not violate any thermodynamic law, yet it works. It just creates a condition where the bug is more likely to get in than out. Zero-point energy could be the same kind of deal, where you make a construct that allows you to 'collect' the energy in some way. This also would not violate any theory of balance if you consider the whole system including where this energy comes from. And if this is from outside what we consider our universe, for example some meta-verse or a bug in the simulation of ours, then to us this would seem indistinguishable from free energy.

        I'm not saying that a 'zpm' could be built and generate free power, but to remind that laws of balance only hold over closed systems. For example if the room you postulate is connected to the atmosphere you can harness the 'uniform pressure' as it changes over time as low/high pressure systems pass by. Thus, you are getting 'free energy' from outside the system, drawing from the global heat. From the perspective of the room this is energy out of nowhere or free energy.
        • A lot of energy goes into the construction of a bug trap (local decrease in entropy) and the bug provides the energy to make the trap work. It would take a lot of bug bodies to repay that energy debt- and even more energy to collect the energy from those bodies.
        • by aquabat (724032)
          You would have to use more energy to get the stored energy out of your theoretical zed-p-m. In fact, more than is stored in it. You need a differential across the boundary of your trap to cause energy to migrate into it. As energy migrates, the differential decreases, and the migration slows, until the net migration stops.

          Consider an energy trap which did not follow this rule, but rather continued to collect energy forever, such that the total energy does not converge to any finite limit (i.e. you can get

        • by Manchot (847225) on Monday July 10, 2006 @02:02PM (#15692555)
          What you've just described is commonly known as Maxwell's demon, [wikipedia.org] and is thought by most physicists to violate the Second Law of Thermodynamics.
          • by domanova (729385)
            Nearest I've seen to Maxwell's demon is stochastic cooling, as used for antiproton sources at CERN at FERMILAB. It takes a lot of input energy to enthuse the demons, so it ain't a break of the rules
        • by colmore (56499)
          entropy can be viewed as the inverse of the usefulness of energy.

          a differential (your bug trap) requires energy to work, in that case the bugs provide a lot of energy flying into the trap under their own power and operating nervous systems that intelligently differentiate inside-the-trap and outside-the-trap. a bug trap can be passive because the bugs are active.

          it might be the case that zero-point energy, like ambient heat, is incapable of being translated into other forms of energy in nature, but then so
  • by SomeoneGotMyNick (200685) on Monday July 10, 2006 @10:52AM (#15691152) Journal
    For politicians, they have much empty space, yet have energy to be able to move around and such.
  • What a babe (Score:5, Funny)

    by ma11achy (150206) on Monday July 10, 2006 @10:54AM (#15691171)

    I know, as a scientist I should be objective. But..

    Lisa Randall is a babe!!

    Ho hum, back to the numbers.
  • by smaerd (954708) on Monday July 10, 2006 @10:56AM (#15691182)
    "...21 cosmologists, experimentalists, theorists, and particle physicists and cosmologists"

    Guys, it's early Monday morning here. When I see a fragment like that, my very-tired brain makes be go back and read it again until it makes sense. Then, because I'm not awake, I don't catch that the only thing wrong is that there are two "cosmologists" in there. Then I have to go back and read it again... then, because I'm not awake, I don't catch that there's two "cosmologists" in there and I have to go back and read it again...

    You get the picture. I was going to make a point or say something a little more witty, but it's early Monday morning here.
    • I think most of use would probably agree that we are slower, dumber, and more surly on Monday mornings, especially before the caffeine begins to sink into our nervous systems.

      Some of us get caught up in simple things, like badly edited sentences in the slashdot blurbs. Heh, nothing wrong with that.

      Some of us get high and mighty and start criticizing the observations of theoretical physicists with crackpot and at best amateur comments that such things are obvious or inconsequential.

      Honestly, between this ar
    • by dino213b (949816) on Monday July 10, 2006 @01:57PM (#15692511)

      This sounds like a classic setup. A star trek "scientist" wants to find a favorable answer to reconcile the real world with his fantasy, so he:

      • arranges a think tank to meet at a conference
      • sets a time constraint on the think tank (conference time limitation)
      • asks THE question he wants answered
      • waits until the end of this time-constrained conference for the answer

      And the end result - a nice juicy "yeah..sure.. align the phase.. inverters" answer that he sought in the first place. Call me a skeptic, but that sounds like the classic T.S.F. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Texas_sharpshooter_fa llacy [wikipedia.org] . By tampering with the normal course of the scientific method, a non-scientific answer was produced. Anyone else see a problem here?

      I love imagination as much as the next guy..but c'mon...

      • I don't think anyone expected that a weekend conference would bring about the final answer to the quantum gravity problem. But getting great minds together to discuss wacky ideas is a good thing as far as I am concerned. Physics conferences are common occurances. I just wish they all took place on exotic tropical islands..

        My main problem, being a physicist myself, was that the essay mostly read like mindless gibberish, repeating the same sentences over and over again, as if the repetition would somehow

  • Editor! (Score:2, Funny)

    by elyons (934748)
    . . .invited a group of 21 cosmologists, experimentalists, theorists, and particle physicists and cosmologists.

    Still, this doesn't explain why the editors always miss the obvious goofs when posting.
    • It looks right.

      From [1] [google.com]: Definitions of cosmologist on the Web:

      • an astronomer who studies the evolution and space-time relations of the universe --wordnet.princeton.edu/perl/webwn

      I think you were thinking of cosmetologists:

      • an expert in the use of cosmetics
  • Science Fluxion (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Doc Ruby (173196) on Monday July 10, 2006 @10:57AM (#15691188) Homepage Journal
    And I thought "Zero Point Energy" was just technobabble [wikipedia.org].

    Fact: what you know that you have proven to yourself
    Belief: what you know that you could prove to yourself but have not
    Faith: what you know that you can not prove to yourself

    Is there a distinction between faith you can't prove to yourself because it's not proveable (metaphysics), and faith you're too dumb to prove?
    • Re:Science Fluxion (Score:3, Insightful)

      by starseeker (141897)
      "Is there a distinction between faith you can't prove to yourself because it's not proveable (metaphysics), and faith you're too dumb to prove?"

      Yes. The latter has a hope of being successfully challenged, and the former does not. That distinction is what distinguishes a scientific question (even if not currently testable) from a religious one (a certain state's school system's habit of redefining words nonwithstanding).
    • Re:Science Fluxion (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward
      Belief: what you know that you could prove to yourself but have not

      How can you possibly know that you could prove something to yourself if you haven't gone to the trouble of actually proving it to yourself? Unless you take it on faith of course. Your definitions are silly.
      • There are many proofs that something can be proven, without being able to actually prove it. Or fail to disprove it, which is the scientific method.

        I know that 23234.4324 * 154.32323 is a number, even before I do the math. That's my belief in math at work. It can be proven - it has been proven to me that it can be proven, even before it it has been proven.

        Your failure to understand something so simple and common, Anonymous obtuse Coward, makes my final question about faiths and incompetence even more intere
        • Your really stretching your defintions here. It is not your belief in Maths that is working. That is not what belief means. That is knowledge of maths, that any two numbers can be multiplied together. If that is your religion, that is strange.

          You don't really need to prove this to anybody, your beliefs don't need to be justified by this silly sort of logic.
          • No, you don't know the definition of belief, even when it's shown to you. The whole point of belief is that you can accept knowledge without actually getting the proof, for other reasons - like trusting a teacher, or intractability of exhaustive proof, or low cost of error.

            Belief is knowledge without proof. Faith is a special case of belief, that can be known without proof even being possible. Just to help you get this a little more, remember that knowledge does not have to be correct, just known.
    • Is there a distinction between faith you can't prove to yourself because it's not proveable (metaphysics),

      It's not that metaphysics are unproveable, just that there's not currently an accepted theoretical framework that allows for the phenomena observed.

      For example, MythBusters tested Paul H. Smith & his claim to be able to teach "remote viewing". Materialist scientists scoff at the notion that a human could get information about a distant location with hokey 'psychic' skills, because there's no allowa
      • Conversely, the Mythbusters often seem to have merely failed to execute a comprehensive experiment rigorously when they "bust" a "myth". Some experimental error rather than an accurate experimental model that disproves the questionable story. When they blow it, are they making metaphysics?
    • As someone else pointed out, if you know you could prove it yourself but have not, it's really a type of faith.

      I'd distinguish it this way.

      Axioms: a fact simply because we say it's so. (i.e. set theory)

      Proven Fact: what you know that you have proven to yourself

      Accepted Fact: what you've been taught (i.e. most of what you've learnt in school that you didn't derive yourself, i.e. most people haven't derived the real numbers from set theory)

      Belief: what you have a high degree of confidence that you could prove
  • Tom Bearden [cheniere.org] thinks it is.
    • Energy is valuable. If Bearden really could obtain it from the vacuum, he wouldn't need to sell books to make a living. It's not really that hard to be a small profitable power plant - look at the farmers burning methane and selling electricity. Anyone claiming "free energy" needs to put out or shut up. A friend of mine loaned me a book by Bearden - what a crock. Nothing there but technobable and conspriacy theories. He'd rather you buy his books than do anything worthwhile. He'd probably prefer to produce
  • Well, duh. (Score:5, Funny)

    by tygerstripes (832644) on Monday July 10, 2006 @10:57AM (#15691194)
    Where did they think all that suction comes from in a vacuum?

    Pfft! Stupid scientists.
  • by McPolu (932921) <McPolu@gmail.com> on Monday July 10, 2006 @10:59AM (#15691208)
    ...in the face of all conventional wisdom in theoretical particle physics...

    In which other web page do you think you will ever find a phrase like that? I really love Slashdot today. Talking about "conventional wisdom" in "theoretical particle physics".
  • Wrong Book Title (Score:4, Informative)

    by Skidge (316075) * on Monday July 10, 2006 @10:59AM (#15691211) Homepage
    Dr. Krauss's book is actually called The Physics of Star Trek [amazon.com] and has a forward written by Stephen Hawking.
  • oops.. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by doowy (241688) on Monday July 10, 2006 @11:01AM (#15691228) Homepage
    I got half way through the article and stopped. He isn't saying anything really at all.

    I don't think this is a discovery of any sort.. I think it is just a guy bragging that he had a nice audience at some conference for which he gave a presentation regarding the non-zero energy of empty space.

    Correct me if I'm wrong, but this has been known for some time and is even explained our current models.

    His presentation seemed to be very anecdotal, I don't think he's claiming to have discovered anything - in fact, I don't think he is claiming to even understand what he is talking about, he's just providing some anecdotal perspective on it.

    P.S. I don't claim to understand it myself.. :)
    • Re:oops.. (Score:3, Funny)

      by gardyloo (512791)
      I got half way through the article and stopped. He isn't saying anything really at all.

            Count yourself lucky. He said it all over again in the second half. That makes this "news", like, 140 years old, instead of just 70.
  • by Petersko (564140) on Monday July 10, 2006 @11:02AM (#15691229)
    I have built a machine in my back yard that harnesses this amazing, free source of energy. The government, however, wants to keep it under wraps, and the oil companies have a contract out on my head.

    I can't show you how it works - that's a secret I want to keep until things cool off enough for me to patent it. But rest assured, it works. You can drop by and see the spinning plates attached to it. They've been spinning for eight months with no added power.

    Yes, I did build it entirely on my own, using the vast knowledge I gleaned by sitting in on engineering classes two or three times a month.
    • Marge: I'm worried about the kids, Homey. Lisa's becoming very obsessive. This morning I caught her trying to dissect her own raincoat.
      Homer: [scoffs] I know. And this perpetual motion machine she made today is a joke! It just keeps going faster and faster.
      Marge: And Bart isn't doing very well either. He needs boundaries and structure. There's something about flying a kite at night that's so unwholesome. [looks out window]
      Bart: [creepy voice] Hello, Mother dear.
      Marge: [closing the curtains] That's it
  • The Casimir effect (Score:5, Interesting)

    by MC68000 (825546) <brodskie@@@gmail...com> on Monday July 10, 2006 @11:03AM (#15691233)
    The perfect demonstration of zero point energy is the Casimir effect, which has actually been observed in a laboratory.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Casimir_effect [wikipedia.org]
    • by kalirion (728907) on Monday July 10, 2006 @11:32AM (#15691455)
      What about background radiation? That's everywhere, isn't it? Or are we considering "empty space" as a theoretical place where there isn't even any radiation at all? And if the Casimir effect counts, wouldn't gravity count as well? Well, I guess there could conceivably be points in space where gravity is 100% cancelled out....
    • Totally off topic, but I have wondered whether the Casimir effect could be used in a type of nanotech battery. Take a large number of very thin plates connected to nano scale gears and motors. The battery is charged by running the motors to seperate the plates. The casimir effect pushes the plates together, turning the motors as generators, providing electric current. Anyone know if this would (in theory, given the right materials and advances in materials science, but not basic physics) work?
  • I didn't RTFA of course but the quote "...I happen to think we won't be able to rely on experiment to resolve this problem." while only one man's opinion, sounds a lot like _faith_

    • ...the quote "...I happen to think we won't be able to rely on experiment to resolve this problem." while only one man's opinion, sounds a lot like _faith_

      Nonsense. If it were faith, he would have complete confidence that his belief was correct even in the face of obvious contraevidence, and no amount of persuasion could convince him otherwise.

      I've argued with people that have faith in ridiculous pseudosciences like psychic predictions. I can explain the effects in terms of cold reading, confirmation bias
  • Vacuum energy (Score:4, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday July 10, 2006 @11:08AM (#15691268)
    As others have noted, the idea of the energy of empty space being nonzero isn't an new idea. The quantum zero-point vacuum energy is nonzero. However, our predictions of its value are ridiculously large, which led some to speculate that either we should redefine the zero point of energy to equal the zero-point energy so that the energy of space exactly equals zero. It's also possible that our ways of doing the accounting are naive (e.g., ignoring quantum gravity), or that some kind of cancellation is going on (e.g. bosons cancelling out fermions in supersymmetry).

    This is related to what may be the biggest open question in cosmology, the cosmological constant problem. The energy of space is intimately related to the "cosmological constant". We now know from the accelerating expansion of the universe that there appears to be a nonzero cosmological constant, implying a nonzero vacuum energy. Its experimentally measured value is many orders of magnitude smaller than a naive calculation of zero-point energy based on the Planck scale, however. Another possibility is that the cosmological constant is actually zero, and the accelerating expansion is actually due to the energy/pressure content of some kind of dynamical "dark energy" field (as opposed to the static cosmological-constant form of dark energy).

    More on vacuum energy [ucr.edu] and the cosmological constant [ucr.edu], plus a tutorial [ucla.edu].

    P.S. Contrary to some science fiction applications (cough-StargateAtlantis-cough) and crank physics (cough-Puthoff-cough), you can't extract free energy as work from the zero-point energy. The zero-point energy is by definition the lowest energy state that a system can have; to extract usable energy, you'd have to decrease the energy of the rest of the system below that minimum value, which is by definition impossible.
    • To be fair to Stargate, they aren't extracting zero point energy from this universe, but from a pocket universe contained within the ZPM.
    • ... you can't extract free energy as work from the zero-point energy. The zero-point energy is by definition the lowest energy state that a system can have; to extract usable energy, you'd have to decrease the energy of the rest of the system below that minimum value, which is by definition impossible.

      ah, but perhaps the definitions need to be changed.

      I've personally met someone you would call a "crank physicist" (a doctoral candidate at a conventional university) who is working in the zero-point energy fi
  • Am I the only one that's confused about the statement? If there is energy in empty space - then that means only one thing - the space by definition isn't empty...

    We thought that there was nothing in water - then they found minerals and all other kinds of stuff... we thought there was nothing smaller than an atom - we were proven wrong... So why is everyone so surprised that we found yet another thing that we didn't know existed? Why does it have to conflict with physics? If the particles are so small we jus
    • Am I the only one that's confused about the statement? If there is energy in empty space - then that means only one thing - the space by definition isn't empty...

      It's not the same as water having other stuff in it that we didn't realize before.

      This is really that if you take everything away that you can take away, you still have some energy density left, which you can't get rid of. It's a quantum effect that is ultimately the result of the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle.

      If there really is a non-zero vacu
    • If the particles are so small we just didn't see them before

      If you read the article you might realise they aren't talking about that at all, the particles in question are positrons and electrons.

      They are talking about actually empty space having sufficient energy that sometimes it turns into matter, an electron and a positron, that usually then wipe each other out and become energy, but can have an effect on things.

      However the energy doesn't fit with other observations and theories in physics. So ou

    • If there is energy in empty space - then that means only one thing - the space by definition isn't empty...

      To some degree that's true, but at this point it's really just splitting semantic hairs about the definition of empty. One way to view the concept of zero-point energy is that there's no such thing as empty space, even in a theoretical sense. Since it doesn't make sense to talk about "truly" empty space anymore, for convenience people then generally view the term empty as shorthand for "as empty as

  • Nice, now we can have a near infinate Energy Source [wikipedia.org] and a convenient way to Move Crates around [wikipedia.org].
  • at last! (Score:2, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward
    Somebody finally thought to ask both Cosmologists AND Cosmologists! This is where breakthroughs come from.
  • Wish I could throw a party, and Stephen Hawking rocks up. "Invitation, Hawkings will be there, and free beer"
  • Sounds like the void ship from the end of the last season of Doctor Who.
  • Everyone knows that the dark energy comes from the turtles [wikipedia.org] that are smaller than the Plank distance.
  • by Weaselmancer (533834) on Monday July 10, 2006 @11:38AM (#15691495)

    Well, it seems to me that if space itself has a nonzero energy, you may be able to stop looking for that extra matter/energy that is missing from the big bang. Most of the universe is...well, space. That might account for that missing 90%, right?

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  • Morons... (Score:5, Funny)

    by dildo (250211) on Monday July 10, 2006 @11:48AM (#15691558)
    Scene: A scientist (Albert) and a zero-point-energy fan (Crackpot) are at the bottom of a very deep well.

    Albert: Well, it may be cold and wet here, but at least we can't get any lower! I guess that is some sort of consolation.
    Crackpot: What are you talking about? We're still filled with potential energy! If we could harvest the potential energy we could get from going a foot lower, we could use it to boost our way out of here!
    Albert: Um... no.
    Crackpot: What do you mean? Do you work for the oil companies or something?!
    Albert: The amount of potential energy you have depends on where you define your lowest point. Typically we set the "zero" point to be the point where you can't fall any further. Since you can't obtain any energy by any means at that point, that means there is no potential energy left.
    Crackpot: But what if we dig down another foot?
    Albert: Do you have any idea how much energy that would require to do that?
    Crackpot: Fine, we'll dig down 20 feet to extract more energy, and that will pay for the energy expense of digging.

    Albert looks confused. He thinks he might be missing a subtle joke. He decides that he isn't deficient in humor -- his companion is deficient in brainpower. Albert unfurrows his brow and tries to talk some sense into his friend.

    Albert: Ok. Let's consider two situations. We've got our situation right now -- we're at the bottom of a well with no way out -- and another situation. In the other situation an evil man is dangling two jet-packs on a fishing line right above our heads. The man will always pull the jet packs out of our reach whenever we try to grab them. The man will never get tired and he will never let us have the jet packs no matter what we do. No matter how long or hard we try, we won't get the jet packs. Question: is it easier to get out of the well in the first situation, or in the second situation?
    Crackpot: What does this have to do with getting access to our latent potential energy?
    Albert: (sighs)
    Crackpot: I have a shovel and some rubber bands. You try to talk to the guy with the jet packs while I dig.

    Albert drowns himself. Fin.
  • Polarity (Score:3, Interesting)

    by roman_mir (125474) on Monday July 10, 2006 @11:51AM (#15691593) Homepage Journal
    It's funny that I happened to think about this subject last week for no apparent reason (thoughts like this just pop into my mind, damn that astronomy minor,) and I thought wouldn't it make sense if gravity had polarity?

    A gravitational well possesses some energy, which at minimum depends on its mass, the gravitational pull towards the center of that mass can be seen as one pole of a gravitational 'magnet', if that were the case, where would be the opposite pole of that mass? It could be that the entire space/time in the universe has to stretch to accomodate the difference in gravitational potential. So it stretches enough to counterbalance the energy of the gravitational well. There must be some sort of communication between the opposite poles, either by 'gravitational waves' or some gravitational particles (gravitons?) or maybe both. If it were waves, it would have looked as if ripples on the surface of a pond were moving out in 2 dimensional space from the center of the gravity well, and the further these ripples move away from the center of the well, the more they subside.

    But these ripples have to be absorbed by something, this something is the normal space, and the more mass there is in the universe, the more of this 'normal empty' space there must be to balance out that mass.

    Based upon all of these assumptions, which I admit are nothing more than speculations at this point, I could even introduce some ideas on the creation of the universe:

    Imagine a totally empty space. Suddenly there was an influx of mass at one point in this space. This influx created a gravitational imbalance in the space and forced the space to balance out this potential by 'creating' more empty space. If any of the above makes sense, I would say that appearence of 'empty space' is actual property of non-empty space, but it takes much more of this 'empty space' to balance any small amount of non-empty space. So while the amount of non-empty space was not very large, the amount of 'empty space' had to be astronomically greater.

    So the more of the non-empty space appears in the universe, the more empty space is provided as a balancer.

    -
    This is all my own conjectures and should not be taken too seriously. yet :)
  • With a space, that is. His name is 't Hooft, not 'tHooft. The guy even has a webpage about it, so this means people are getting his name wrong all of the time...

      - webpage how to spell his name: http://www.phys.uu.nl/~thooft/ap.html [phys.uu.nl]

    Mark
  • Where or what was it that Lawrence Krauss invited all of these people to, and were there any cosmologists there?
  • by Anonymous Coward
    This must be old as they apparently relied on the Pentium FDIV to compute a non-zero result. Had they used the newer AMD processors, they would have had a much higher resolution of a non-zero result.
  • ... when Einstein first derived it. Remember, "E=mc^2" is just the first term in the Taylor expansion for relativistic mass of a moving body:

    E = m c^2 sqrt( 1 / (1 - v^2/c^2) )

    which expands to the approximation

    E ~ m c^2 + m v^2/2 + ...

    and recovers the classical kinetic energy equation (that second term) from the Lorenz contraction formulae.

    Einstein is reputed to have worked for a while to try to explain away the mc^2 constant term on the front (which doesn't affect classical motion since it is constant), but it was not measurable until nuclear decay was characterized. Chemical reactions don't release enough energy for the binding-energy mass loss to be measurable, but nuclear reactions due. Every (non-failing) chemistry student is familiar with the mass deficit in bound nuclei (the atomic mass of hydrogen is more than 1/12 the atomic mass of C-12, because the C-12 nucleus is tightly bound and lost some mass/energy when it stuck together).

    My point is that the mere fact that something is not measurable today does not make it completely senseless. The fact that nuclear mass deficits and corresponding energy loss during radioactive decay agreed with Einstein's relation was a major early win for Einsteinian relativity.
  • Most profound, serious shit, it is.

    (in a positive way; I'm curious what interesting conclusions will be drawn from this, if it's true)
  • by trelayne (930715) on Monday July 10, 2006 @12:27PM (#15691850)
    This is already known in theoretical quantum physics. In fact NASA has funded research into it with the long range goals of achieving propellant-less propulsion.

    The Casimir Effect is also an experiment that is touted as ultra-precise proof of the phenomenon.

    And there are a number of tantalizing theories that are built on its existence and have been published in the usual top ranking physics journals. Some suggesting that vacuum energy is responsible for the very structure (and hence stability) of the physical universe.

    For example: http://www.calphysics.org/ [calphysics.org] explores the possibility that vacuum energy fluctuations account for mass (even particle mass!), inertial forces and [through an elegant corrolary] gravity. This opens up possibilities that go well beyond star trek.

  • It's quite simple you see. As shown by Ramanujan;

    1 + 2 + 3 + 4 .... = -1/12

    So getting energy out of empty space should be a snap!
  • by brian0918 (638904) <brian0918@@@gmail...com> on Monday July 10, 2006 @12:47PM (#15691998)
    Krauss is always pulling stunts like this. I was a physics undergrad in his dept., and recall hearing about a huge prank that was pulled on a class he taught:

    In Rockefeller 301, the main lecture room, there are maybe a hundred old uncomfortable desks bolted to the floor. One night, some students from his class came in, unbolted all the desks, turned them around, then bolted them back down. One of them wrote on the chalkboard in big letters, "Krauss's big head turns students away!" They had to cancel several classes early the next day, as maintenance rushed in to turn all the desks back around. The funny thing is that the comment remained on the chalkboard for a week or so after the incident--apparently everyone was in agreement about it.

    Another interesting incident... at the Stephen Hawking lecture a few years ago, when the school randomly decided to give him the Michelson Morley award (basically because they would never get another person so esteemed to talk at the school), the interim president (Hundert) of the school was giving a lecture, holding the award, and getting ready to present it. As he was about to bring the award over to Hawking, Krauss does some sort of stunt in grabbing the award away from Hundert without looking weird, and takes it over to Hawking. He then gets his photo opportunity with Hawking.

    I also recall earlier that day, during Krauss's lecture, and later quoted in the school paper, him mentioning that he was one of the key figures behind dark matter research, which is total nonsense.

    One final example that I remember way back as a freshman: I was sitting outside the professors' offices waiting for someone, and heard some yelling, then saw Krauss's secretary run out in a total fit, tears streaming from her eyes, face bright red. She's still around today though, so they must be paying her a lot. I don't think anyone could handle him on a daily basis for less than $60k a year.
  • by maillemaker (924053) on Monday July 10, 2006 @04:47PM (#15693694)
    I found the author to ramble and repeat himself a bit. I kept scrolling back going, "Wait, didn't I just read this?" thinking I had hit the wheel button or something.

    The thing I found most interesting out of the whole TFA, though, was this last bit:

    "That is, we live in one universe, so we're a sample of one. With a sample of one, you have what is called a large sample variance. And maybe this just means we're lucky, that we just happen to live in a universe where the number's smaller than you'd predict. But when you look at CMB map, you also see that the structure that is observed, is in fact, in a weird way, correlated with the plane of the earth around the sun. Is this Copernicus coming back to haunt us? That's crazy. We're looking out at the whole universe. There's no way there should be a correlation of structure with our motion of the earth around the sun -- the plane of the earth around the sun -- the ecliptic. That would say we are truly the center of the universe."

    Wow. What if we really /are/ the center of the universe? Sure makes me think twice about the whole God thing...

    Steve

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