Mathematical Digest

Short Summaries of Articles about Mathematics
in the Popular Press

"Does the Universe Go on Forever?" by Hazel Muir. New Scientist, 11 October 2003, pages 6-7.

This article reports on the recent excitement surrounding new observations from the Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe. The probe observes ripples in the cosmic microwave background radiation. In comparing the observations to theoretical predictions, researchers see indications that the universe could be finite and quite small, 70 billion light years across---meaning that the entire universe could be within observational range. Mathematician Jeffrey Weeks is one of the main architects of the theoretical predictions. "I was just blown away," he is quoted as saying about the new observations. "The results are far better than I could have imagined." But there are some perplexing results as well: Certain patterns that the theory predicted should be in the data have not yet been found. Weeks and other researchers are examining the data more closely to see if they can unravel this seeming contradiction. One possibility is to look at what the probe data says about the curvature of the universe; initial estimates of the curvature will be made more precise in coming months, as the probe trasmits more data.

--- Allyn Jackson