We can’t be certain. Recent astronomical evidence supports the view that the universe is infinite in extent.
At the same time, Einstein’s general theory of relativity suggests that our universe is finite but lacking a boundary or outer edge. As an analogy, imagine that our universe is the surface of a sphere; this would give it a limited size without a boundary.
This ushers in the possibility that parallel universes exist “beyond” our own. If this were the case, we might expect to see peculiar motion of galaxies in our universe as they are pulled towards a massive neighbouring universe.
Using the European Space Agency’s Planck spacecraft, scientists have looked for evidence of this in the cosmic microwave background radiation, but have found no sign of it.
Quantum mechanics, however, hints at a multiverse. The famous double-slit experiment shows that an electon behaves both as a wave and a particle, and can pass through a pair of adjacent slits at the same time.
In 1925, Erwin Schrödinger came up with his eponymous equation to describe this wave-like behaviour. The equation implied that many different states are possible, even if only one is seen. This was “solved” by the Copenhagen interpretation, which holds that the act of observing the particle banishes all the other states.
Later, Hugh Everett III devised his many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics, suggesting that all the states not seen in our universe are seen in parallel universes. A phenomenon called quantum entanglement would allow all the parallel universes to act in unison, each exhibiting a different state.
But the jury is still out on whether we live in a multiverse.
Roger Savidge Shoreham-by Sea, West Sussex, UK
The term “universe” is widely accepted to mean everything that exists, which would clearly exclude the possibility of other universes existing, except in our imagination. Therefore, any meaningful discussion of “other universes” requires a more restricted definition.
One such definition is that “our universe” includes everything whose existence we can verify – in other words, everything that is capable of interacting with us, even if, like dark matter, it only does so gravitationally. Anything that affected us gravitationally would therefore be a part of our universe.
It is possible to conceive of the existence of a form of dark matter that doesn’t even interact gravitationally. Such matter and anything composed of it would truly occupy another universe, even if contiguous with our own in space and time.
“Our universe could be an insignificant dot in a multiverse of billions of galaxies of universes, and could feel their gravity”
However, the existence of such other universes could never form the basis of a scientific theory since it is unfalsifiable. It can never be more than speculation.
To answer this question – or ask a new one – email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Questions should be scientific enquiries about everyday phenomena, and both questions and answers should be concise. We reserve the right to edit items for clarity and style. Please include a postal address, daytime telephone number and email address.