I was wondering why there were lots and lots of hits on this weblog today coming from Google searches for “first evidence for string theory”. It looks like the answer is this lead article from the latest New Scientist magazine. I don’t have access right now to the full article, but it’s clearly based on the usual cosmic string hype. After all, according to the author, string theory “is our best hope of understanding how the universe works”, so anytime astronomers see something unusual, what else could it be but a string?
Update: I finally got ahold of a copy of the full article. It is based on two separate anomalies seen by astronomers. The first is called “CSL-1”, which was first reported nearly two years ago. It appears to be two nearly identical galaxies right next to each other, but the authors of a paper about it would like to believe there is some inter-galactic cosmic string producing two images of a single galaxy via gravitational lensing. Even if you believe this, there’s no evidence this is a fundamental superstring, even Joe Polchinski doesn’t think so (see Lubos Motl’s excited posting about “astronomers prove string theory”).
The second observation actually has nothing to do with the first (despite what the opening sentences of the story suggest). It’s of a quasar called Q0957+561A,B that really is a gravitationally lensed object. One thing I don’t understand is that in the case of CSL-1, the fact that there are only two images is taken as evidence that a string is doing the lensing (and claims are made that lensing by point like objects only produces odd numbers of images), whereas for Q0957+561A,B there are only two images, but an intervening galaxy, not a string, is what is doing the lensing. For the quasar pair, some changes in brightness by about 4% have been observed, so it has been suggested this is due to a nearby cosmic string (inside our galaxy, within 10,000 light years) which is moving around in our line of sight with the quasar pair.
I’d be curious to hear what professional astronomers think of this. To me it looks like just more string theory hype, and I now suspect that for the indefinite future, whenever an astronomer somewhere, somehow sees something anomalous, we’re going to be subjected to claims that “strings have been observed!!”.