String theory is probably one of the wildest theories that has ever come out of science.
But to verify any theory, we need to design and run experiments. At the beginning of modern science in the 17th Century, a person like Galileo could build their own instruments by hand and discover new things about the universe.
He discovered that there were moons orbiting the planet Jupiter, which eventually led to the acceptance of the theory that the Sun was at the centre of the solar system.
But as science has advanced, and the deeper and further that we have peered into the universe, the more sophisticated equipment we’ve had to build.
At the cutting edge of current science is the Large Hadron Collider, or LHC. It’s a facility so expensive (at $4.75 billion USD to build and $1 billion per year in running costs) that it requires the collaboration and funding from 100+ countries to keep it running.
Enter string theory.
It predicts that deep within quarks are tiny, vibrating strings. They are so tiny that if a quark was blown up to the size of the Sun, a string would be smaller than a hair on its surface.
We need to be able to collect data about strings with our instruments in order for string theory to be confirmed. The colossal distance between the smallest thing that we can measure right now and a string is why we aren’t even close.
If we were to use the same technology that the LHC is based on to be able to see strings, we would need to build a particle accelerator the size of the galaxy. Clearly, we need a different approach.
Fortunately, there may be a way.
When the Big Bang created the universe, it expanded rapidly from an infinitesimally tiny point into the gigantic universe we see today.
Some scientists think that at some point along the way, just fraction of a second after the Big Bang, the universe must have been about the size of a string.
So it’s possible that we will find ‘shadows’ of strings in the overall shape of the universe. We may be able to build a telescope powerful enough to see them.
If string theory is confirmed, we must be prepared for some startling revelations that come from peering so deep into the fabric of reality.
Among many other startling things, the theory predicts that we must be living in a universe that contains at least 10 dimensions, which may mean that our universe is just one of many, layered on top of each other like the pages of a closed book.