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Bending reality: Einstein meets quantum mechanics in Antarctic ice

Researchers examine the interface between these two theories, using ultra-high-energy neutrinos detected by a particle detector placed deep inside the Antarctic ice sheet at the South Pole

The IceCube laboratory under Antarctic skies. Credit: Martin Wolf, IceCube/NSF
The IceCube laboratory under Antarctic skies. Credit: Martin Wolf, IceCube/NSF

Einstein's theory of general relativity explains that gravity is caused by the curvature of the directions of space and time. The most familiar expression for this is the Earth's gravity, which keeps us on the ground and explains why balls fall to the floor and people have weight when they step on a weight.  

In the field of particle physics, on the other hand, scientists study tiny invisible objects that obey the laws of quantum mechanics - characterized by random fluctuations that create uncertainty in the position and energy of particles such as electrons, protons and neutrons. The randomness of quantum mechanics must be understood to explain the behavior of matter and light on a subatomic scale.

Finally the DOM experiment in the South Pole Telescope detector system is starting to give results. Credit: Mark Krasberg, IceCube/NSF
The digital optical module drops into the array where it can begin collecting data.
Credit: Mark Krasberg, IceCube/NSF

For decades scientists have been trying to unite these two fields of research to get a quantum description of gravity, which would combine the curvature physics associated with general relativity and the mysterious random fluctuations associated with quantum mechanics.

A new study by the University of Texas at Arlington (UTA) published in Nature Physics reports a new and in-depth investigation into the interface between these two theories, using ultra-high energy neutrinos detected by a particle detector placed deep inside the Antarctic ice sheet at the South Pole.

"The challenge of unifying quantum mechanics with the theory of gravity is still one of the most pressing unsolved problems in physics," says co-author Benjamin Jones, associate professor of physics. "If the gravitational field behaves similarly to the other fields in nature, its curvature should show random quantum fluctuations."

Jones and his UTA ​​graduate students Akishima Nagi and Grant Parker were part of the IceCube International Collaborative team that included more than 300 scientists.

To look for signatures of quantum gravity, the team placed thousands of sensors across one square kilometer near the South Pole in Antarctica that monitored neutrinos, unusual but common subatomic particles that have no electric charge and no mass. The team was able to study more than 300,000 neutrinos. They wanted to test whether these ultra-high energy particles were disrupted by random quantum fluctuations in space-time that they would be observed to be if gravity were related to quantum mechanics, because they travel long distances across the Earth.

"We looked for these fluctuations by investigating the flavors of the neutrino particles detected by the IceCube observatory," Nagy said. "Our work yielded a measurement that was much more sensitive than previous measurements (more than a million times, in some models), but we found no evidence of the expected effects of quantum gravity."

The fact that no quantum geometry of space-time has been observed is a strong statement about the still-unknown physics that operates at the interface between quantum mechanics and general relativity.

"This analysis is the latest chapter in UTA's nearly decade-long contribution to the IceCube Observatory," Jones said. "My group is now performing new experiments aimed at understanding the origin and value of the neutrino particle mass using atomic, molecular and optical physics techniques."

for the scientific article

More of the topic in Hayadan:

3 תגובות

  1. It says in the article that neutrinos have no mass. This is not true. And later it says the opposite

  2. Is it an observatory or a focused energy weapon that has already taken care of earthquakes?

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