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by Clara Moskowitz, SPACE.com Assistant Managing Editor
Date: 07 December 2012 Time: 10:51 AM ET
The universe we live in may not be the only one out there. In fact, our universe could be just one of an infinite number of universes making up a “multiverse.”
Though the concept may stretch credulity, there’s good physics behind it. And there’s not just one way to get to a multiverse — numerous physics theories independently point to such a conclusion. In fact, some experts think the existence of hidden universes is more likely than not.
Here are the five most plausible scientific theories suggesting we live in a multiverse:
1. Infinite Universes
Scientists can’t be sure what the shape of space-time is, but most likely, it’s flat (as opposed to spherical or even donut-shape) and stretches out infinitely. But if space-time goes on forever, then it must start repeating at some point, because there are a finite number of ways particles can be arranged in space and time.
So if you look far enough, you would encounter another version of you — in fact, infinite versions of you. Some of these twins will be doing exactly what you’re doing right now, while others will have worn a different sweater this morning, and still others will have made vastly different career and life choices.
Because the observable universe extends only as far as light has had a chance to get in the 13.7 billion years since the Big Bang (that would be 13.7 billion light-years), the space-time beyond that distance can be considered to be its own separate universe. In this way, a multitude of universes exists next to each other in a giant patchwork quilt of universes.
2. Bubble Universes
In addition to the multiple universes created by infinitely extending space-time, other universes could arise from a theory called “eternal inflation.” Inflation is the notion that the universe expanded rapidly after the Big Bang, in effect inflating like a balloon. Eternal inflation, first proposed by Tufts University cosmologist Alexander Vilenkin, suggests that some pockets of space stop inflating, while other regions continue to inflate, thus giving rise to many isolated “bubble universes.”
Thus, our own universe, where inflation has ended, allowing stars and galaxies to form, is but a small bubble in a vast sea of space, some of which is still inflating, that contains many other bubbles like ours. And in some of these bubble universes, the laws of physics and fundamental constants might be different than in ours, making some universes strange places indeed.
"American coffee can be a pale solution served at a temperature of 100 degrees centigrade in plastic thermos cups, usually obligatory in railroad stations for purposes of genocide…”
- Umberto Eco, How to Travel With a Salmon & Other Essays
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