We often think of outer space as a never-ending vacuum filled with the occasional galaxy. What we don’t realize is that away from our eyes, this vacuum comes alive.
In order to understand what truly happens behind our backs in the vacuum, we must start by examining space itself.
So what is space? Quantum Field Theory tells us that space is composed of fundamental quantum fields, with a separate field for every particle that makes up our universe.
Electrons, quarks, neutrinos, and other fundamental particles are just the oscillations of the field with different energies. In specific, they have quantum energy, which exists as multiples of a baseline energy.
You can think of this as a ladder with energy levels. Each rung of the ladder represents the existence of one additional particle in that quantum state.
So the bottom of the ladder would be where there is no energy, meaning there are no particles. This is known as the vacuum state.
But as we will see, we cannot actually have zero-energy. Instead, the quantum field gently vibrates randomly. Sometimes this produces enough energy to form particles out of seemingly nothing!
The particles arising out of the fluctuation of quantum fields are called virtual particles.
Empty space is teeming with these virtual particles or “wiggles in the field”.
But there is a catch; these particles are created in particle and anti-particle pairs. They live only for a short instance of time until they destroy each other, popping in and out of existence.
The higher the energy of the particle, the lesser time it can exist. Wait a minute. Virtual Particles? That sounds sketchy. Let me show you the proof.
By definition, these elusive particles only exist when we aren’t watching, but their presence can be felt throughout the universe. In 1948, Hendrick Casimir came up with an ingenious idea to observe these virtual particles.
The Implications of Virtual Particles
Well, these seemingly insignificant particles have made quite an impact on the universe we know today. Not only do they explain “particle-particle interaction“, but they can be traced back to the origin of the universe itself!
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Pass it on: New Scientist