One of my favorite songs from the 1960s is The Zombies’ “She’s Not There,” a blast of anxious pop music about a girl whose most fascinating quality is that she is nowhere to be found. One of my favorite themes from the January meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Long Beach, California, might be called “Discoveries That Aren’t There”: Several major teams of researchers presented studies that definitively did not find what they were looking for, and that were all the more fascinating for it.
Finding nothing might sound like a recipe for boredom but—as in a great pop song—these “not-there” findings replace one mystery with another, deeper and more intriguing one. Robert Nemiroff of Michigan Technological University (the man behind the beautiful Astronomy Picture of the Day web site) kicked things off with an experiment designed to map the fundamental structure of space. His quest was to examine the fundamental structure of space at extremely fine scales, much smaller even than a single atom.