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'What is Space?': Full of Possibilities

November 2, 2011 - 10:21am


Host Brian Greene explores the possibilities of space in tonight's premiere episode of PBS NOVA's "The Fabric of the Cosmos."

Host Brian Greene explores the possibilities of space in tonight's premiere episode of PBS NOVA's "The Fabric of the Cosmos."

Science often takes the ordinary . . . and brings out the extraordinary. 

A new PBS NOVA series, The Fabric of the Cosmos, peers into the perception of time, the realm of quantum physics, and the astonishing possibilities of the multiverse. As host physicist Brian Greene will show, the tiniest of tiny spaces, at scales almost too small to imagine, may have the potential to generate entire universes. And space may be even stranger in the darkest spaces of all, the hearts of black holes, where space is utterly twisted and warped.

Greene will be joined by scientists from the Energy Department's National Labs, including Lawrence Berkeley National Lab's Dr. Saul Perlmuter, who recently shared the Nobel Peace Prize in Physics for the discovery that the universe is expanding at an accelerating rate. Dr. Perlmuter and fellow prize recipient Dr. Adam Riess will talk about the discovery in tonight's premiere episode, "What is Space." While empty space, is well, empty, Dr. Greene shows how empty space is frothing with surprises and possibilities.

For instance, empty space can stretch, bend, and even now, is expanding at a rate that’s scarcely imaginable. The discovery of this rate of expansion was utterly unexpected to Dr. Perlmuter and Dr. Riess, as they explain on tonight's program, since the attractive force of gravity was thought to be slowing the expansion of the universe. 

But even as gravity is trying to pull distant galaxies together, a mysterious force known as dark energy is pushing them away. Since the galaxies are moving apart faster and faster, dark energy seems to be winning the day. Scientists have since determined that dark energy makes up more than 70 percent of the mass-energy in the universe. But they still don’t know what it is. As the Nobel Committee noted, “It is an enigma, perhaps the greatest in physics today.

Researchers at the Energy Department's Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory (Fermilab), another Office of Science facility, are also studying the mysteries of space. Two of them, Craig Hogan, Director of the Fermilab Center for Particle Astrophysics, and Joe Lykken, a theoretical physicist at the lab, will also appear on tonight's program.  

Fermilab scientists are building experiments to learn more about dark energy. They are involved in the Dark Energy Survey, which will start collecting data in 2012 to find out what is causing the space to expand at an accelerating rate.

Those who tune in will also see that empty space is full of mystery and possibility at its smallest scales. 

Worlds of possibility are woven into space and throughout the Fabric of the Cosmos series. This potential animates researchers in the Office of Science and all across the Energy Department. So tune in tonight and the next three Wednesdays to see how they are taking the seemingly ordinary and bringing out the simply extraordinary. 

For more information, check out the Office of Science's Fermilab and Berkeley Lab, as well as the Office of Science online.