29 November 2009

New Quantum Gravity Theory

Scientific American: Splitting Time from Space—New Quantum Theory Topples Einstein's Spacetime

Physicists have struggled to marry quantum mechanics with gravity for decades. In contrast, the other forces of nature have obediently fallen into line. For instance, the electromagnetic force can be described quantum-mechanically by the motion of photons. Try and work out the gravitational force between two objects in terms of a quantum graviton, however, and you quickly run into trouble—the answer to every calculation is infinity. But now Petr Hořava, a physicist at the University of California, Berkeley, thinks he understands the problem. It’s all, he says, a matter of time.

Others have made even bolder claims for Hořava gravity, especially when it comes to explaining cosmic conundrums such as the singularity of the big bang, where the laws of physics break down. If Hořava gravity is true, argues cosmologist Robert Brandenberger of McGill University in a paper published in the August Physical Review D, then the universe didn’t bang—it bounced.

Hořava gravity may also create the “illusion of dark matter,” says cosmologist Shinji Mukohyama of Tokyo University. In the September Physical Review D, he explains that in certain circumstances Hořava’s graviton fluctuates as it interacts with normal matter, making gravity pull a bit more strongly than expected in general relativity. The effect could make galaxies appear to contain more matter than can be seen. If that’s not enough, cosmologist Mu-In Park of Chonbuk National University in South Korea believes that Hořava gravity may also be behind the accelerated expansion of the universe, currently attributed to a mysterious dark energy. One of the leading explanations for its origin is that empty space contains some intrinsic energy that pushes the universe outward. This intrinsic energy cannot be accounted for by general relativity but pops naturally out of the equations of Hořava gravity, according to Park.

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