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IN AUGUST, radio astronomers announced that they had found an enormous hole in the universe... One team of physicists has a breathtaking explanation: "It is the unmistakable imprint of another universe beyond the edge of our own," says Laura Mersini-Houghton of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. “Standard cosmology cannot explain such a giant cosmic hole”
If the cosmic cold spot was all that Laura Mersini-Houghton and her colleagues had chalked up in the way of a prediction, it might be possible to dismiss it as a fluke. However, they claim they can explain two other anomalies in the WMAP measurements of the cosmic microwave background too.
The standard model of cosmology cannot explain why the hot and cold spots of the quadrupole and octupole are much closer in temperature than they are in other multipoles. But Mersini-Houghton says that the squeezing of our universe by neighbouring ones in her team's model leads to repulsive gravity and suppresses the quantum fluctuations that seeded matter. "This is turn depresses the temperature variations at the quadrupole scale, exactly as WMAP has seen," she says.
They predict that there should be not one such giant void but two: one in the northern hemisphere corresponding to the WMAP cold spot and one in the southern hemisphere. "We are hoping that a southern void will turn up in the data soon," she says.
They hope to test what happened when the universe cooled below a certain temperature and underwent a phase transition, which broke supersymmetry. According to string models, the energy released during the phase transition drove inflation, and went on to create supersymmetric particles. Since the energy had to be sufficient to ensure the growth of our piece of vacuum, Mersini-Houghton and her colleagues can make an estimate of the energy scale of supersymmetry breaking. "We find it is about 100,000 times greater than generally believed," she says. "Therefore we predict that the LHC will not detect supersymmetry."
Now you see it, now you don't. A giant hole in the cosmos that shocked astrophysicists last year may not exist after all. A re-examination of the area has found that the "void", which supposedly contained far fewer stars and galaxies than expected, could be a statistical artefact.