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Science Matters with Lawrence Krauss

Airdate: January 20, 2016
Arizona State University Physicist Lawrence Krauss will explain the latest science news in his monthly appearance on Arizona Horizon.

  • Lawrence Krauss - Arizona State University Physicist
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Ted Simons: Coming up next on "Arizona Horizon," physicist Lawrence Krauss joins us to discuss the latest science happenings, including what could be a new planet discovered in our solar system. And it's time again for our weekly legislative update with the "Arizona Capitol Times." That's next on "Arizona Horizon".

Video: "Arizona Horizon" is made possible by contributions from the friends of Arizona PBS, members of your PBS station. Thank you.

Ted Simons: Good evening and welcome to "Arizona Horizon." I'm Ted Simons. A study released today shows that each college graduate in Arizona adds $660,000 to the economy over his or her lifetime. The study was commissioned by the nonprofit group College Success Arizona, which works to increase college graduation rates. The study shows that graduates boost the economy by way of higher wages, more tax revenue, and less dependence on government assistance. The study also shows that closing the college degree gap between whites and non-whites could add $2.3 billion to the state's economy for each graduating class.
It's time for our monthly look at the latest science news with best-selling science writer and world-renowned physicist -- indeed he's our favorite physicist -- here he is, ASU's own Lawrence Krauss. Sounds like an old TV show, my favorite physicist.

Lawrence Krauss: My favorite host, there we go.

Ted Simons: Let's knock it off here. Let's get to -- in the science world, this would almost be breaking news.

Lawrence Krauss: Well, you know everything we want to talk about is breaking news. The theme, we should have theme, the theme for today is totally unexpected discoveries, and the more things change the more they stay the same.

Ted Simons: We start with a new planet that would maybe replace Pluto as number nine.

Lawrence Krauss: We needed nine, and then -- by -- we -- people got rid of Pluto. It looks like a solid claim, but a remarkable one that it is a ninth planet -- not a baby like Pluto. 4,000 times more massive.

Ted Simons: How far away --

Lawrence Krauss: 10 times farther away than Pluto at least --

Ted Simons: Between Neptune and --

Lawrence Krauss: No, it is way out. It could orbit so far out that is one of the reasons that it may not have been seen. What is really neat, this is the claim of a planet that has never been seen.

Ted Simons: I was going to ask you about this. I read about this. I did a little research.

Lawrence Krauss: Nice to know you're doing that.

Ted Simons: No grass growing under my feet. Discovery of a new planet. No one has seen it.

Lawrence Krauss: Isn't that amazing. You know what it is? It's gravity. That is not the first time it's happened. That's what is great. 1845, I think, maybe 1835, one of those years, what happened? They saw the orbit of the planet Uranus not behaving like it was supposed to -- maybe another planet -- people calculated where that planet should be and they discovered Neptune.

Ted Simons: Same thing happening here?

Lawrence Krauss: Same thing may happen. What's been discovered -- well, actually the same guy who really was responsible for the demotion of Pluto, Michael Brown, Cal Tech, who discovered another object, the Kuiper Belt, where Pluto is, that was Pluto-like. Pluto is not so special. That led to the demotion of Pluto ultimately. But there are a bunch of other planets in the region and they have orbits that are hard to understand. Gravitationally, based on what is existing in the solar system. Maybe there is something else that is causing them to have those orbits. And people did estimates and it wasn't very impressive. But then it turned out there were six objects in that region, all sort of having orbits in the same direction. People said maybe there is a planet pulling them in that direction. You put a planet right there and it doesn't work. But what was done and this was over the last two years, if you put a planet that sort of orbiting the opposite direction but every now and then loops in to that region of the Kuiper Belt, it drags those planets into the orbits and in fact can explain those six orbits that are seen. Even more interesting, it turns out because it has a huge gravitational influence because it is a large planet out there, it also causes other objects in the Kuiper Belt to orbit perpendicular to the planets in the solar system. That was a prediction, and they looked out and found five objects doing --

Ted Simons: Objects smaller than this thing?

Lawrence Krauss: Much smaller.

Ted Simons: Why are we seeing these objects and not the thing?

Lawrence Krauss: These objects are in the Kuiper Belt, between two and five billion miles away. This planet would be 20 billion, maybe 100 billion miles away. It is way, way out there. It is so massive, it is looping in and periodically it loops in and affects them and, in fact, what it will eventually do is change the orbit so they're no longer in the Kuiper Belt. You put planet there, make the predictions, display what you see and also predict all of these objects orbiting perpendicular of the solar system which is hard to do otherwise and boom, you look out and you find them. Walks like a duck and quacks like a duck. Seems to be the only way to understand what is out there and now people can look. It is pretty far out there. The theory looks very impressive. It would be the more things change the more they stay the same. Using gravity and looking at the existing objects to find a new object. And it has worked before. I love the idea of a ninth planet in the solar system because I have been missing Pluto.

Ted Simons: Well, I'm sorry to hear that. Sorry for your loss.

Lawrence Krauss: Thank you.

Ted Simons: How long would it take something like this to orbit our sun?

Lawrence Krauss: I think its orbit is something like 20,000 years.

Ted Simons: Oh, for goodness sakes.

Lawrence Krauss: We will be sitting here talking --

Ted Simons: Yes, we will. How long until it is confirmed?

Lawrence Krauss: I don't know. Going to look and where it should be, but it is bright. I mean, it is large and therefore it would be relatively bright. But it is far away. It is going to be hard. If it is out there and they know where to look, I suspect one might hope in the next year or two, but you never know. It is -- it is amazing that we have such confidence in its mass and relative position, more or less, without ever having seen it and it would be -- it would be a testimony to the power of gravity, which I want to emphasize because we will come back to that later.

Ted Simons: Any name for this thing yet?

Lawrence Krauss: I think -- Krauss planet. No, I don't -- no name yet. A lot of people will come up with interesting names.

Ted Simons: We have the new planet out there. So far away we can't even see it. A new particle as well?

Lawrence Krauss: Yeah, this is really neat. We have talked about new particles. It hasn't been seen yet. It's been seen more than this planet has been seen, but there is a hint of something that is extremely interesting. Unlike the sort of Higgs particle which we were looking for and unlike the other interesting particles which have been discovered which are not surprising in the context of the standard model. This is a collision that is at -- what we see, we collide the two beams -- looking at this crazy morass of stuff -- this stuff that comes out and work backwards to figure out what the source of all of that was. What is interesting and tantalizing, two big experiments, independent, they both seem a bump, access of particles. One three times as many particles, another 10 times as much. Both at a mass of 750 giga-electronvolts -- almost five times heavier than the particle that has been discovered. What is weird about it, it is not a kind of particle that anyone would have predicted. We have been thinking what is beyond the standard matter of particle. People have been looking for things like super-symmetry which we have talked about. This would be a particle five times more massive that would decay -- two particles of light, and it is not -- no one wrote a paper predicting such a thing. If it is there, it would really be the first evidence that there is something dramatically new that we hadn't expected in nature. And, now, having said that, the statistics are not compelling. I don't even know if a paper has been written on the subject. But the -- they announced it at a press conference. Statistics are such that it -- a few percent chance that it could be a fluke. And at that level, in this kind of complexity of experiment, a lot of people think it is a fluke. Because something this interesting, extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence and this is not extraordinary evidence yet.

Ted Simons: It means it’s extraordinary, why?

Lawrence Krauss: It means that -- it can't be explained within the complex of all of the forces of nature that we know about. It would tell us something -- potentially a new force of nature. In fact, I was talking to a colleague today about a new force that might explain this and a lot of people, hundreds of physicists writing papers about this; of course, it could be ambient state because it might go away. If it is true, in some sense it is much more interesting than the Higgs particle, even though that was incredibly important, it lays the foundation of the standard model. People expected that we might find something like that. This is totally unexpected and would require something completely new including a new force of nature. That is why it is very interesting. Although I'm betting that it is probably going to go away. But it is incredibly interesting if it is there.

Ted Simons: Could this have anything to do with dark matter? Black holes, all of that kind of thing?

Lawrence Krauss: The point is that it could have something to do with all of that. In fact, if it is there, it is going to give us the key piece of evidence that will tell us about the theories that might point to the existence of dark matter, understanding gravity. We have lots of theories. People like me have come up with ideas. But we have been working in the dark literally, because everything with the standard model of particle physics and nothing has told us where to go beyond that. If it is there, it will be the first significant pointer to tell us where to look. Some people argued it might be a particle that is related to a whole sector of dark matter, called hidden dark matter. Lots of possibilities. We don't know, but if it is there, we will be able to look at it and it will open up a new window that may lead us to quantum gravity, the Holy Grail telling us about the beginning of time itself.

Ted Simons: Hidden dark gravity, how are you going to find that?

Lawrence Krauss: By looking where you can look. Where -- I have talked to you before. If you are drunk and come out of a bar and lose your keys, where do you look, under the lamp post? We look where we can look. And we will use what we can to find out. We will use every bit of data that we have. If it is there, it will change everything in a sense. It will be the key bit of data that will direct fundamental particle physics for the 21st Century.

Ted Simons: You have an event coming up, Einstein legacy thing --

Lawrence Krauss: November of this last year, was the 100th anniversary of the time Einstein wrote down the general theory of relativity, the theory of gravity. Friday night at 7:00 at Gammage. Tickets still available, origins project -- it is going to talk about Einstein's legacy. Two Nobel Laureates. Another one the Nobel Prize for discovering the antigravity that is making the universe expand ever faster and faster. Kip Thorne, one of the world's experts on gravity and wrote the initial treatment of Interstellar, which we have talked about for. The physics he talks about is --

Ted Simons: You pan that film --

Lawrence Krauss: The nongravitational physics which is what he is going to talk about. And then we have a woman from Cal Tech, historian who is the curator of the Einstein archives. We will talk about the legacy of Einstein and what we have talked about today is the legacy of Einstein. Gravity, planets, a new physics that might point to quantum gravity everywhere we look is Einstein's legacy. We are going to talk about it and I'm going to talk about some something things, too.

Ted Simons: We have talked about, based on standard theory, based a lot on what Einstein said 100 years ago but it is also expanding those ideas, isn't it?

Lawrence Krauss: Expanding the ideas and taking it to the next level. But you know there is also, if you think about it, the first evidence for -- 100 years ago. The thing Einstein said made him faint, when he did the calculations, Mercury orbits the sun but the orbit processes --

Ted Simons: What does that mean?

Lawrence Krauss: It looks like the ellipse but keeps changing with time. No one understood it. Guess what, when he plugged in the theory of general relativity, generally it was explained. There in some sense the same kind of thing we're looking for with the new planet. That bit of evidence that the theory could explain the motion of simple things like planets in our solar system, fundamental evidence that convinced him that the theory was correct. Even in our local neighborhood, we can discover things that change our picture of everything.

Ted Simons: And, yet, Einstein, correct me if I am wrong, was not all that excited about quantum mechanics and --

Lawrence Krauss: Exactly. And he would be rolling in his grave if he knew about in some sense what we're -- what may lead us to quantum theory of gravity.

Ted Simons: Because he disagreed with it --

Lawrence Krauss: He thought quantum mechanics -- physics progresses one funeral at a time people say. You know what happened, old people have a hard time giving up their old ideas and new physicists come along. Einstein had a hard time giving up classical ideas. He grew up in the 1800s and he never really accepted quantum mechanics, now the basis of 21st century physics. Who knows what you and I will have to give up in the 21st Century.

Ted Simons: Who knows what we will talk about next month? This was a big month for new discoveries.

Lawrence Krauss: It is true. But I like to think every month is a great month for new discoveries. Stay tuned.

Ted Simons: I got it. The name for the new planet. Ted.

Lawrence Krauss: It sounds -- it sounds kind of nice, yeah. It sounds like you could make a movie about it.

Ted Simons: Sure. Okay. Always a pleasure. Good to see you. Thanks for being here.

Lawrence Krauss: Take care. Bye-bye.