Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Time gives rays a break

07.03.2002


Like a photo, space and time probably look grainy at close quarters.
© GettyImages/NSU


Jumps in space-time might explain the curious survival of energetic particles.

Space and time must be grainy, not smooth. Otherwise high-energy particles produced in astrophysical processes would not be detectable on Earth.

So says Richard Lieu of the University of Alabama in Huntsville. Many agree that jumps in space-time occur on scales that are far too small to measure, but the idea has not yet been proved. Lieu now shows that using this hypothesis can explain how highly energetic particles can travel through space and avoid annihilating collisions1.



Physicists suspect that at distances trillions of times smaller than the width of an atom space is not like a smooth sheet. At this scale, they think it is more like a chessboard, with objects disappearing from one square and reappearing in another.

Ditto time. For durations of about 5x10-44 seconds, events are thought to happen in a series of freeze-frames.

These short intervals of space and time are called the Planck distance and the Planck time. They are named after the German physicist Max Planck who initiated quantum theory, which posited that the energies of atoms and molecules are quantized, or discretely divided.

Atomic quantum theory is firmly established, but the notion that space-time itself is quantized is much harder to test because the Planck time and distance are so small.

Grain bar

Quantization implies that close up, space-time is like a photograph: the apparent smoothness breaks up into grainy patches. Normally we would never notice the grains. Lieu reckons their effects become important at very high energies.

According to Einstein’s general theory of relativity, events involving very fast-moving objects look different to an observer moving at the same speed as the object compared with an observer who is stationary relative to the object. Time seems to move more slowly for the stationary observer. To relate the two frames of reference, one must perform a mathematical adjustment called a Lorentz transformation.

If space-time is grainy, the particles’ positions can’t be pinned down any more accurately than the grain size: there is an unavoidable uncertainty equal to the Planck distance. Similarly, times can’t be specified any more accurately than the Planck time.

Point of view

Lieu shows that at high energies, where relativity has appreciable effects, the Lorentz transformation effectively magnifies these uncertainties. This means that, although they are still tiny in the moving frame of reference, the uncertainties are appreciable to the stationary observer.

So even if particles seem to have enough energy to destroy themselves in collisions with the low-energy microwave photons pervading the Universe, creating showers of new particles in the process, they don’t. From the microwave photons’ point of view, many of the particles aren’t energetic enough to induce such a fate, thanks to space-time graininess.

This might explain why very-high-energy gamma rays have been detected from a distant galaxy-like object called a blazar, suggests Lieu. Astrophysicists expected most of these rays to be wiped out by collisions with intervening microwave photons in space.

The same goes for cosmic rays, the high-energy subatomic particles that stream through space. Predictions say that these should thin out abruptly above a certain energy level because of photon collisions. But no such energy cut-off has been found experimentally, perhaps because of the inflated Planck-scale uncertainties in the particles’ energies.

References

  1. Lieu, R. The effect of Planck scale space time fluctuations on Lorentz invariance at extreme speeds. Astrophysical Journal Letters, in press (2002).

PHILIP BALL | © Nature News Service

More articles from Physics and Astronomy:

nachricht From rocks in Colorado, evidence of a 'chaotic solar system'
23.02.2017 | University of Wisconsin-Madison

nachricht Prediction: More gas-giants will be found orbiting Sun-like stars
22.02.2017 | Carnegie Institution for Science

All articles from Physics and Astronomy >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Breakthrough with a chain of gold atoms

In the field of nanoscience, an international team of physicists with participants from Konstanz has achieved a breakthrough in understanding heat transport

In the field of nanoscience, an international team of physicists with participants from Konstanz has achieved a breakthrough in understanding heat transport

Im Focus: DNA repair: a new letter in the cell alphabet

Results reveal how discoveries may be hidden in scientific “blind spots”

Cells need to repair damaged DNA in our genes to prevent the development of cancer and other diseases. Our cells therefore activate and send “repair-proteins”...

Im Focus: Dresdner scientists print tomorrow’s world

The Fraunhofer IWS Dresden and Technische Universität Dresden inaugurated their jointly operated Center for Additive Manufacturing Dresden (AMCD) with a festive ceremony on February 7, 2017. Scientists from various disciplines perform research on materials, additive manufacturing processes and innovative technologies, which build up components in a layer by layer process. This technology opens up new horizons for component design and combinations of functions. For example during fabrication, electrical conductors and sensors are already able to be additively manufactured into components. They provide information about stress conditions of a product during operation.

The 3D-printing technology, or additive manufacturing as it is often called, has long made the step out of scientific research laboratories into industrial...

Im Focus: Mimicking nature's cellular architectures via 3-D printing

Research offers new level of control over the structure of 3-D printed materials

Nature does amazing things with limited design materials. Grass, for example, can support its own weight, resist strong wind loads, and recover after being...

Im Focus: Three Magnetic States for Each Hole

Nanometer-scale magnetic perforated grids could create new possibilities for computing. Together with international colleagues, scientists from the Helmholtz Zentrum Dresden-Rossendorf (HZDR) have shown how a cobalt grid can be reliably programmed at room temperature. In addition they discovered that for every hole ("antidot") three magnetic states can be configured. The results have been published in the journal "Scientific Reports".

Physicist Dr. Rantej Bali from the HZDR, together with scientists from Singapore and Australia, designed a special grid structure in a thin layer of cobalt in...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Booth and panel discussion – The Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings at the AAAS 2017 Annual Meeting

13.02.2017 | Event News

Complex Loading versus Hidden Reserves

10.02.2017 | Event News

International Conference on Crystal Growth in Freiburg

09.02.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Stingless bees have their nests protected by soldiers

24.02.2017 | Life Sciences

New risk factors for anxiety disorders

24.02.2017 | Life Sciences

MWC 2017: 5G Capital Berlin

24.02.2017 | Trade Fair News

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>