Einstein's E=MC2 May Breakdown in Outer Space
- URL to an article in the daily Galaxy
_University of Arizona_
(University%20of%20Arizona)&t=h) physicist Andrei Lebed has stirred the physics community with
an intriguing idea yet to be tested experimentally: The world's most iconic
equation, _Albert Einstein's_
(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Albert_Einstein) E=mc2, may be correct or not depending on where you are in space.
With the first explosions of atomic bombs, the world became witness to one
of the most important and consequential principles in physics: Energy and
mass, fundamentally speaking, are the same thing and can, in fact, be
converted into each other. This was first demonstrated by Albert Einstein's
_Theory of Special Relativity_ (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Special_relativity)
and famously expressed in his iconic equation, E=mc2, where E stands for
energy, m for mass and c for the speed of light (squared).
Although physicists have since validated Einstein's equation in countless
experiments and calculations, and many technologies including mobile phones
and GPS navigation depend on it, University of Arizona physics professor
Andrei Lebed has stirred the physics community by suggesting that E=mc2 may
not hold up in certain circumstances.
The key to Lebed's argument lies in the very concept of mass itself.
According to accepted paradigm, there is no difference between the mass of a
moving object that can be defined in terms of its inertia, and the mass
bestowed on that object by a gravitational field. In simple terms, the former,
also called _inertial mass_ (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mass) , is what
causes a car's fender to bend upon impact of another vehicle, while the latter,
called gravitational mass, is commonly referred to as "weight."
This equivalence principle between the inertial and gravitational masses,
introduced in classical physics by _Galileo Galilei_
(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Galileo_Galilei) and in modern physics by Albert Einstein, has been
confirmed with a very high level of accuracy.
"But my calculations show that beyond a certain probability, there is a
very small but real chance the equation breaks down for a gravitational mass,"
Lebed said. If one measures the weight of quantum objects, such as a hydrog
en atom, often enough, the result will be the same in the vast majority of
cases, but a tiny portion of those measurements give a different reading,
in apparent violation of E=mc2. This has physicists puzzled, but it could
be explained if gravitational mass was not the same as inertial mass, which
is a paradigm in physics.
"Most physicists disagree with this because they believe that gravitational
mass exactly equals inertial mass," Lebed said. "But my point is that
gravitational mass may not be equal to inertial mass due to some quantum
effects in _General Relativity_ (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/General_relativity)
, which is _Einstein's theory of gravitation_
(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Introduction_to_general_relativity) . To the best of my knowledge, nobody
has ever proposed this before."
"The most important problem in physics is the Unifying Theory of Everything
– a theory that can describe all forces observed in nature," said Lebed.
"The main problem toward such a theory is how to unite relativistic quantum
mechanics and gravity. I try to make a connection between quantum objects
and General Relativity."
The key to understand Lebed's reasoning is gravitation. On paper at least,
he showed that while E=mc2 always holds true for inertial mass, it doesn't
always for gravitational mass. "What this probably means is that
gravitational mass is not the same as inertial," he said.
According to Einstein, gravitation is a result of a curvature in space
itself. Think of a mattress on which several objects have been laid out, say, a
ping pong ball, a baseball and a bowling ball. The ping pong ball will
make no visible dent, the baseball will make a very small one and the bowling
ball will sink into the foam. Stars and planets do the same thing to space.
The larger an object's mass, the larger of a dent it will make into the
fabric of space.
Lebed's calculations indicate that the electron can jump to a higher energy
level only where space is curved. Photons emitted during those
energy-switching events (wavy arrow) could be detected to test the idea. In other
words, the more mass, the stronger the gravitational pull. In this conceptual
model of gravitation, it is easy to see how a small object, like an asteroid
wandering through space, eventually would get caught in the depression of
a planet, trapped in its gravitational field.
"Space has a curvature," Lebed said, "and when you move a mass in space,
this curvature disturbs this motion." According to the UA physicist, the
curvature of space is what makes gravitational mass different from inertial
mass. Lebed suggested to test his idea by measuring the weight of the simplest
quantum object: a single hydrogen atom, which only consists of a nucleus,
a single proton and a lone electron orbiting the nucleus. Because he
expects the effect to be extremely small, lots of hydrogen atoms would be needed.
On a rare occasion, the electron whizzing around the atom's nucleus jumps
to a higher energy level, which can roughly be thought of as a wider orbit.
Within a short time, the electron falls back onto its previous energy
level. According to E=mc2, the hydrogen atom's mass will change along with the
change in energy level. So far, so good. But what would happen if we moved
that same atom away from Earth, where space is no longer curved, but flat?
You guessed it: The electron could not jump to higher energy levels because
in flat space it would be confined to its primary energy level. There is no
jumping around in flat space.
"In this case, the electron can occupy only the first level of the hydrogen
atom," Lebed explained. "It doesn't feel the curvature of gravitation."
"Then we move it close to Earth's gravitational field, and because of the
curvature of space, there is a probability of that electron jumping from the
first level to the second. And now the mass will be different." "People have
done calculations of energy levels here on Earth, but that gives you no
thing because the curvature stays the same, so there is no perturbation,"
Lebed said. "But what they didn't take into account before that opportunity of
that electron to jump from the first to the second level because the
curvature disturbs the atom." "Instead of measuring weight directly, we would
detect these energy switching events, which would make themselves known as
emitted photons – essentially, light," he explained.
Lebed suggested the following experiment to test his hypothesis: Send a
small spacecraft with a tank of hydrogen and a sensitive photo detector onto a
journey into space. In outer space, the relationship between mass and
energy is the same for the atom, but only because the flat space doesn't permit
the electron to change energy levels.
"When we're close to Earth, the curvature of space disturbs the atom, and
there is a probability for the electron to jump, thereby emitting a photon
that is registered by the detector," he said.
Depending on the energy level, the relationship between mass and energy is
no longer fixed under the influence of a gravitational field. Lebed said
the spacecraft would not have to go very far.
"We'd have to send the probe out two or three times the _radius of Earth_
(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Earth_radius) , and it will work." According to
Lebed, his work is the first proposition to test the combination of
quantum mechanics and Einstein's theory of gravity in the solar system. "There
are no direct tests on the marriage of those two theories," he said. " It is
important not only from the point of view that gravitational mass is not
equal to inertial mass, but also because many see this marriage as some kind
of monster. I would like to test this marriage. I want to see whether it
works or not."
For more information: The details of Andrei Lebed's calculations are
published in three preprint papers with _Cornell University Library_
(Cornell%20University%20Library)&t=h) : xxx.lanl.gov/abs/1111.5365
The Daily Galaxy via University of Arizona
(I reject your reality and substitute my own)
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