Universe as Doughnut


New York Times, March 11, 2003

Universe as Doughnut: New Data, New Debate

By DENNIS OVERBYE

Long ago in the dawn of the computer age, college students often whiled away the nights playing a computer game called Spacewar. It consisted of two rocket ships attempting to blast each other out of the sky with torpedoes while trying to avoid falling into a star at the center of the screen.

Although cartoonish in appearance, the game was amazingly faithful to the laws of physics, complete with a gravitational field that affected both the torpedoes and the rockets. Only one feature seemed outlandish: a ship that drifted off the edge of the screen would reappear on the opposite side.

Real space couldn’t work that way. Or could it?

Imagine that the Spacewar screen is wrapped around to form a cylinder or a section of a doughnut so that the two edges meet.

That is the picture of space, some cosmologists say, that has been suggested by a new detailed map of the early universe. Their analysis of this map has now provided a series of hints — though only hints — that the universe may have a more complicated shape than astronomers presumed. Rather than being infinite in all directions, as the most fashionable theory suggests, the universe could be radically smaller in one direction than the others. As a result it may be even be shaped like a doughnut.

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