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Ask Ethan: Why Is There A Limit To What Physics Can Predict? (Synopsis) [Starts With A Bang]

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“There is a limit on how much information you can keep bottled up.” -Dick Gregory

There are fundamental limits to the Universe, in the sense that there are scales where our laws of physics break down. You can’t break matter or energy up into infinitely small pieces, and the same goes — we think — for space and time. But is that necessarily all true, and is that what the Planck scale means? Not quite.

Although X-ray observations have set limits on the granularity of space, they have not probed anywhere near down to the Planck scale. Image credit: X-ray: NASA/CXC/FIT/E. Perlman; Illustration (bottom): CXC/M. Weiss.

Rather, these are scales at which our laws of physics stop giving reliable predictions, as we make these mass, energy, length and time scales out of three constants fundamental to our physical theories: the gravitational constant, the speed of light and Planck’s constant. They do have strong physical implications, but they don’t necessarily mean these scales can’t be divisible further. After all, every particle in existence has a mass far below the Planck mass!

A Higgs boson event as seen in the Compact Muon Solenoid detector at the Large Hadron Collider. This spectacular collision is 15 orders of magnitude below the Planck energy. Image credit: CERN / CMS Collaboration.

What are the limits to the Universe, and how are they related to Planck units? Find out on this week’s Ask Ethan!


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