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Alt-week 10.26.13: Somewhere, is a galaxy far, far away and how time is just a side effect


Alt-week takes a look at the best science and alternative tech stories from the last seven days.

In the red corner, we have quantum theory. In the blue, it's relativity. But, if new experiments are to be believed, the two feuding concepts might not need to slug it out after all. In unrelated news, Google could be taking your data out to sea. This is alt-week.

Altweek 102613

Thinking caps on for this one please. Quantum mechanics, with all its peculiarities is fascinating stuff. But, if you're in the game of explaining our universe at a fundamental level, it throws up more than a few conceptual wrinkles with that other great theory -- relativity. One of the main bumps in the relationship between these two grand concepts involves time. Einstein would say that time is relative. Quantum theory, on the other hand, says anything could be happening, in two places at the same time, depending on who's observing it, playing havoc with the constant conditions relativity craves (that's us paraphrasing heavily, to say the least). Early attempts to make them play nice (i.e., the Wheeler-DeWitt equation) solved some issues, but created another -- namely a static universe, where nothing every happens. Physicists then explored the idea that entanglement might explain things. The idea that an external observer sees the universe as static, while "time" emerges due to changes only observed within. Still with us? One small stumbling block to proving this theory is that it requires an observer outside of the universe. That's a toughy. Enter a team from the Istituto Nazionale di Ricerca Metrologica (INRIM) in Turin who devised an experiment using a toy universe, that they claim proves it under lab conditions. The research needs expanding, of course, but for now it's potentially a tiny nudge towards the theory of everything.

Altweek 102613

Back here in the more familiar, though no less mind-bending surroundings of our known universe, images from Hubble show what scientists claim is the most distant galaxy ever seen. The light from "z8_GND_5296" as it's currently designated/known shows us the galaxy just 700 million years after the Big Bang (or if you prefer about 13.1 billion years ago), when the universe was estimated to be 5 percent of its current age (and much smaller in size). Astronomers used images from Hubble's CANDELS survey to select older galaxies for further investigation, and then use redshift measurements to verify age. At 7.51, z8_GND_5296 is the highest ever confirmed, and as such provides a rare historical look back into time.

Altweek 102613 new evidence could unite Quantum and Relative theories, and a galaxy far, far away

So far this week we've gone from the photon level, to the deep universe. Our next stop is a little more... down to earth. An otherwise inconspicuous looking barge in San Francisco Bay has been the subject of rumor and investigation. According to CNET, the industrial looking vessel is part of an undisclosed Google project, which it speculates could be a floating data center. One of the clues being a 2009 patent that Mountain View was granted for exactly that. There's not a lot linking the water-bound containers to the search giant, but CNET believes there's enough to peg it on Brin's-brigade. What's more, another, similar barge has been spotted in Portland, Maine. Both are owned by the same holding company, with registration numbers just one apart. This has fuelled speculation, that Google could be using them for data centers, and using the water as part of a cheap cooling mechanism. The Portland Press Herald also suggests that it might be a way to avoid paying property taxes. So, financially it could make sense. A data center at sea? What could possibly go wrong?

[Image credit: McDonald observatory, Portland Press Herald]

Seen any other far-out articles that you'd like considered for Alt-week? Working on a project or research that's too cool to keep to yourself? Drop us a line at alt [at] engadget [dot] com.

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