A vacuum is not empty

More weird science:

Two forthcoming research papers question whether or not the nature of a vacuum remains static.

In one paper, Marcel Urban from the University of Paris-Sud, located in Orsay, France identified a quantum level mechanism for interpreting vacuum as being filled with pairs of virtual particles with fluctuating energy values. As a result, the inherent characteristics of vacuum, like the speed of light, may not be a constant after all, but fluctuate.

Meanwhile, in another study, Gerd Leuchs and Luis L. Sánchez-Soto, from the Max Planck Institute in Germany, hypothesize that physical constants, such as the speed of light and the so-called impedance of free space, are indications of the total number of elementary particles in nature.

Vacuum is one of the most intriguing concepts in physics. When observed at the quantum level, vacuum is not empty, but rather, filled with continuously appearing and disappearing particle pairs such as electron-positron or quark-antiquark pairs.

These ephemeral particles are real particles, but their lifetimes are extremely short. In their study, Urban and colleagues established, for the first time, a detailed quantum mechanism that would explain the magnetisation and polarisation of the vacuum, referred to as vacuum permeability and permittivity, and the finite speed of light. This finding is relevant because it suggests the existence of a limited number of ephemeral particles per unit volume in a vacuum.

As a result, there is a theoretical possibility that the speed of light is not fixed, as conventional physics has assumed. But it could fluctuate at a level independent of the energy of each light quantum, or photon, and greater than fluctuations induced by quantum level gravity. The speed of light would be dependent on variations in the vacuum properties of space or time.

via Speed-of-light fluctuations prompted by ephemeral vacuum particles | TG Daily.

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • Pete

    Whoever is in charge of quality control at the vacuum supplier is obviously asleep at the wheel.

  • WebMonk

    This isn’t particularly surprising, though certainly it is a new discovery. The speed of light varies according to the medium through which it passes. The “speed of light” which everyone quotes is officially “the speed of light in a vacuum”.

    The variability at the “quantum foam” level averages out, and so c is best defined as “speed of light in a vacuum with quantum qualities XYZ”. So if it is possible to change the medium, the vacuum, through which light travels, it is possible to change the speed of light. Makes sense and seems solidly extensible from known properties of light.

    I’ve gotta complain about a paragraph in the article, though:

    As a result, there is a theoretical possibility that the speed of light is not fixed, as conventional physics has assumed. But it could fluctuate at a level independent of the energy of each light quantum, or photon, and greater than fluctuations induced by quantum level gravity. The speed of light would be dependent on variations in the vacuum properties of space or time.

    The fluctuations of the photon propagation time are estimated to be on the order of 50 attoseconds per square meter of crossed vacuum, which might be testable with the help of new ultra-fast lasers.

    What the BLEEP does this guy think he’s talking about?? The speed of light NEVER changes according to the energy of a photon! And what the heck is an “ultra-fast laser”????? “Ultra-precise”, sure. “Ultra-powerful”, that could work. But “ultra-fast”????

    Ignoramus.

  • Dr Luther in the 21st Century

    But it sounds really cool Webmonk(#2). 8) Who wouldn’t want an ultra-fast laser. You know for those times when a 2 nanosecond response isn’t enough.

  • Jon

    So, is this saying that the speed of light might actually be faster, in some times and places, than that ubiquitous number given for the speed of light in a vacuum?

  • WebMonk

    The difference is pretty small between the possible difference in light speeds.

    50 attoseconds (1/50,000,000,000,000,000,000th of a second) per meter. Light crosses a meter in 1 299,792,458th of a second. The difference there is of 0.0000000006%.

    And, we aren’t entirely sure that it’s possible to have spacetime without quantum foam. Light would go 0.0000000006% faster in such an environment IF that environment actually exists. We aren’t even sure if it can theoretically exist, and it almost certainly doesn’t actually exist.

  • http://www.redeemedrambling.blogspot.com Dr. Fundystan, Proctologist

    These kinds of studies only make sense when one comes to terms with contemporary science as statistical probability. Wen we speak of constants, we are not speaking of absolutes. We are speaking of statistically normal occurrences. This is especially important for quantum physics, where measurements are relative to the mechanism of observation. A good analogy for contemporary particle physics is detecting a ping-pong ball by bouncing a cue-ball off it. As WebMonk already pointed out, statistical averaging allows us to effectively model C given known or average quantum variance.

  • Jon

    Hmm. Shoulda got a Dyson.

  • Gerald

    I sincerely hope my tax dollars did not pay for this.

  • http://geochristian.wordpress.com/ Kevin N

    Gerald — Spending tax dollars on basic research is part of what has made America the technological leader of the world.

    The idea that a vacuum is filled with quantum particle pairs has been around for quite some time. The tie to the speed of light is, as far as I know, new and highly speculative.


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