Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Crystallized space-time

There's an interesting article over at Nautilus about a new theory of black holes, or rather a theory in which there aren't black holes at all, but a phenomenon based on a bunch of quantum effects instead of relativistic ones.
...George Chapline, a physicist at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, doesn’t expect to see a black hole. He doesn’t believe they’re real. In 2005, he told Nature that “it’s a near certainty that black holes don’t exist” and—building on previous work he’d done with physics Nobel laureate Robert Laughlin—introduced an alternative model that he dubbed “dark energy stars.” Dark energy is a term physicists use to describe a peculiar kind of energy that appears to permeate the entire universe. It expands the fabric of spacetime itself, even as gravity attempts to bring objects closer together. Chapline believes that the immense energies in a collapsing star cause its protons and neutrons to decay into a gas of photons and other elementary particles, along with what he refers to as “droplets of vacuum energy.” These form a “condensed” phase of spacetime—much like a gas under enough pressure transitions to liquid—that has a much higher density of dark energy than the spacetime surrounding the star. This provides the pressure necessary to hold gravity at bay and prevent a singularity from forming. Without a singularity in spacetime, there is no black hole.
The theory is far from mainstream, but if supported by actual data, has the potential to upend a whole lot of astrophysics. But what caught my eye, or rather mind, when I read it was its similarity to a passage in a science fiction story from 1930:
"It is not matter at all, in the ordinary sense of the word. It is almost pure crystallized energy. You have, of course, noticed that it looks transparent, but that it is not. You cannot see into its substance a millionth of a micron—the illusion of transparency being purely a surface phenomenon, and peculiar to this one form of substance. I have told you that the ether is a fourth-order substance—this also is a fourth-order substance, but it is crystalline, whereas the ether is probably fluid and amorphous. You might call this faidon crystallized ether without being far wrong."
"But it should weigh tons, and it is hardly heavier than air—or no, wait a minute. Gravitation is also a fourth-order phenomenon, so it might not weigh anything at all—but it would have terrific mass—or would it, not having protons? Crystallized ether would displace fluid ether, so it might—I'll give up! It's too deep for me!" said Seaton.
"Its theory is abstruse, and I cannot explain it to you any more fully than I have, until after we have given you a knowledge of the fourth and fifth orders. Pure fourth-order material would be without weight and without mass; but these crystals as they are found are not absolutely pure. In crystallizing from the magma, they entrapped sufficient numbers of particles of the higher orders to give them the characteristics which you have observed. The impurities, however, are not sufficient in quantity to offer a point of attack to any ordinary reagent."
"But how could such material possibly be formed?"
"It could be formed only in some such gigantic cosmic body as this, our green system, formed incalculable ages ago, when all the mass comprising it existed as one colossal sun. Picture for yourself the condition in the center of that sun. It has attained the theoretical maximum of temperature—some seventy million of your centigrade degrees—the electrons have been stripped from the protons until the entire central core is one solid ball of neutronium and can be compressed no more without destruction of the protons themselves. Still the pressure increases. ..."
That's from Skylark Three, by E. E. "Doc" Smith. All the details are different, of course, and people still referred to the stuff of empty space as the luminiferous ether instead of "space-time," but you get the idea.

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