Latest estimate of the amount of information in the visible universe

Have you ever wondered what the size of your computer’s hard drive would be to store all the information of the cosmos? Well, a physicist came up with an interesting rough figure. Each particle in the visible Universe would total 6×1080 bits of information. It’s a 6 followed by 80 zeros. In comparison. One terabyte is 8,000,000,000,000 bits (that’s only 12 zeros).

As reported in the journal AIP Advances, physicist Dr Melvin Vopson has taken two simple approaches to determining the informational content of the universe. First, he looked at the estimate of the number of visible particles of matter that exist. And then he multiplied it by the amount of information that each particle corresponds to.

The first number was estimated using the Eddington number, which is the number of protons in the visible universe. Obviously, visible matter isn’t just protons, so Vopson developed that. The second number, the information contained in each particle, is estimated using Claude Shannon’s information theory. In this study, each elementary particle corresponds to 1,509 bits of information.

“The information capacity of the universe has been a subject of debate for over half a century,” Dr Vopson, of the University of Portsmouth, said in a statement. “There have been various attempts to estimate the information content of the universe, but in this article I describe a unique approach that further postulates how much information can be compressed into a single elementary particle. “

A previous estimate by Seth Lloyd from almost two decades ago was worth much more than a billion times that much, but it also included a very different derivation and interpretation of the information available. And even Vopson’s earlier work had different estimates using different assumptions.

Different methods of answering this question could lead to a better understanding of the information as a whole. It is very difficult to define what information is, although it arises in the equations of physics and is a crucial player in objects on the borderline of physics like black holes.

“This is the first time that this approach has been used to measure the informational content of the universe, and it provides a clear numerical prediction,” explained Vopson. “While not entirely accurate, numerical prediction offers a potential route to experimental testing.”

Vopson’s current calculation purposely ignores the small amounts of antimatter present in the Universe and neutrinos – extremely light, electrically uncharged particles – which are extremely abundant in the Universe. It also ignores dark matter, a mysterious substance that could trump ordinary matter by 5 to 1.

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Johnnie Gross

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