Friday, January 6, 2012

Has a Crack Appeared?

I came across an interesting and recent development in physics dating to 2009. The Scientific American reported on the matter on November 24, 2009 (link); New Scientist had an article on it dated August 9, 2010; that article is not online, but a summary of it is presented by The Daily Galaxy (March 24, 2011, link).

The discoverer in question is a physicist working at the University of California, Berkeley named Peter Horava or Petr Hoyava or, most likely, Petr Hoava. (That box stands for an r with a caron on top of it; the ASCII code is not recognized by Blogger.) Horava is also, according to Wikipedia, a member of the theory group at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. Horava’s discovery, working with an allotrope (read “form of”) carbon known as graphene, is that the behavior of this carbon at near absolute zero temperatures suggests that Einstein’s spacetime may not be real at all, that gravity acts differently in different temperatures, that the warping of space and time by mass may be illusory. What we see is caused by gravitation which does not act uniformly everywhere. This view appears to confirm  the claims of quantum physics that gravity is due to an exchange of particles, like electromagnetism, in this case the graviton, not due to the deformation of spacetime.

Now this discovery is beginning to make waves for a reason. It promises, finally, a unified theory of gravitation which will make the results observed by general relativity and quantum physics agree with each other—but, to be sure, at some expense to General Relativity’s claim to universal applicability. Well.

And there is more. As might be expected, views of black holes, the big bang, dark matter, dark energy, and the expansion of the universe all appear in very different light. For this reason, rather than summarily dismissed, Horava’s suggestions and modified equations are getting a lot of attention from quantum physicists.

I note this here because spacetime is my favorite bête noire. Yet it is so fundamental to general relativity that any crack that separates those two words means a revolution in physics. Unfortunately I cannot hope personally to check the results however much I’d like to. It would require me to master Maxwell’s equations presented in his On Physical Lines of Force (link), the Lorenz transformations that “correct” or “complete” them, and—for that matter—the evolution of concepts as rendered in the language of mathematics all the way from the days of aether to the present. I haven’t got the right stuff. But I have a very keen intuition!

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