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The Universe Could Be "Pixelated," According to Scientists

Here's a thought experiment for you: instead of being smooth and continuous, scientists believe spacetime is made up of discrete "spacetime pixels."

These pixels, according to scientists, would be "so minuscule that if you magnify things to the size of a grain of sand, atoms would be the size of galaxies."

The idea is to reconcile general relativity's conventional principles of physics with the more mysterious world of quantum physics.

It's a mind-boggling hypothesis that tries to explain whether gravity can be broken down into its constituent parts, an issue that has kept quantum physicists awake at night for a long time.

Quantum mechanics and gravity are sometimes misunderstood in science communication, leading to the conclusion that they are incompatible. However, scientists know through tests that quantum mechanics can be performed on this planet with gravity, indicating that they are consistent.

As is typically the case, the devil is in the details.

When you ask sophisticated questions about black holes or try to integrate ideas at very low distance scales, you run into complications.

To put it another way, according to quantum mechanics, if you zoom in on spacetime, would you also locate individual photons, which make up light? Is it a continuous spectrum or a discrete spectrum?

Individual hypothetical "gravitons," according to some scientists, might make up gravity on the lowest scale. Gravitons are a type of particle in string theory that resonate at a specific frequency.

On a smaller scale, however, physicists are still stumped as to how to bring the rules of general relativity and quantum physics together.

If you drop a coffee mug and it falls, you'd want to believe it's due to gravity. However, just as temperature isn't a'real' thing, it describes how a group of molecules vibrate, spacetime may not be a genuine thing.

The same might be said of spacetime.

Because we don't yet know what the guts of spacetime are, it's possible that something that originates from the pixelation of spacetime has been given the term gravity.

READ MORE: Is Space Pixelated? California Institute of Technology's The Quest for Quantum Gravity