Tag Archives: gravity

This artist’s impression shows how an asteroid torn apart by the strong gravity of a white dwarf has formed a ring of dust particles and debris orbiting the Earth-sized burnt out stellar core  SDSS J1228+1040. Gas produced by collisions within the disc is detected in observations obtained over twelve years with ESO’s Very Large Telescope, and reveal a narrow glowing arc.

Credit:
Mark Garlick (www.markgarlick.com) and University of Warwick/ESO

VLT maps out remains of white dwarf’s meal

The Glowing Halo of a Zombie Star

VLT maps out remains of white dwarf’s meal


This artist’s impression shows how an asteroid torn apart by the strong gravity of a white dwarf has formed a ring of dust particles and debris orbiting the Earth-sized burnt out stellar core  SDSS J1228+1040. Gas produced by collisions within the disc is detected in observations obtained over twelve years with ESO’s Very Large Telescope, and reveal a narrow glowing arc. Credit: Mark Garlick (www.markgarlick.com) and University of Warwick/ESO
This artist’s impression shows how an asteroid torn apart by the strong gravity of a white dwarf has formed a ring of dust particles and debris orbiting the Earth-sized burnt out stellar core SDSS J1228+1040. Gas produced by collisions within the disc is detected in observations obtained over twelve years with ESO’s Very Large Telescope, and reveal a narrow glowing arc.
Credit:
Mark Garlick (www.markgarlick.com) and University of Warwick/ESO

The remains of a fatal interaction between a dead star and its asteroid supper have been studied in detail for the first time by an international team of astronomers using the Very Large Telescope at ESO’s Paranal Observatory in Chile. This gives a glimpse of the far-future fate of the Solar System.

Led by Christopher Manser, a PhD student at the University of Warwick in the United Kingdom, the team used data from ESO’s Very Large Telescope (VLT) and other observatories to study the shattered remains of an asteroid around a stellar remnant — a white dwarf called SDSS J1228+1040 [1].

Using several instruments, including the Ultraviolet and Visual Echelle Spectrograph (UVES) and X-shooter, both attached to the VLT, the team obtained detailed observations of the light coming from the white dwarf and its surrounding material over an unprecedented period of twelve years between 2003 and 2015. Observations over periods of years were needed to probe the system from multiple viewpoints [2].

“The image we get from the processed data shows us that these systems are truly disc-like, and reveals many structures that we cannot detect in a single snapshot,” explained lead author Christopher Manser.

The team used a technique called Doppler tomography — similar in principle to medical tomographic scans of the human body — which allowed them to map out in detail the structure of the glowing gaseous remains of the dead star’s meal orbiting J1228+1040 for the first time.

While large stars — those more massive than around ten times the mass of the Sun — suffer a spectacularly violent climax as a supernova explosion at the ends of their lives, smaller stars are spared such dramatic fates. When stars like the Sun come to the ends of their lives they exhaust their fuel, expand as red giants and later expel their outer layers into space. The hot and very dense core of the former star — a white dwarf — is all that remains.

But would the planets, asteroids and other bodies in such a system survive this trial by fire? What would be left? The new observations help to answer these questions.

It is rare for white dwarfs to be surrounded by orbiting discs of gaseous material — only seven have ever been found. The team concluded that an asteroid had strayed dangerously close to the dead star and been ripped apart by the immense tidal forces it experienced to form the disc of material that is now visible.

The orbiting disc was formed in similar ways to the photogenic rings seen around planets closer to home, such as Saturn. However, while J1228+1040 is more than seven times smaller in diameter than the ringed planet, it has a mass over 2500 times greater. The team learned that the distance between the white dwarf and its disc is also quite different — Saturn and its rings could comfortably sit in the gap between them [3].

The new long-term study with the VLT has now allowed the team to watch the disc precess under the influence of the very strong gravitational field of the white dwarf. They also find that the disc is somewhat lopsided and has not yet become circular.

“When we discovered this debris disc orbiting the white dwarf back in 2006, we could not have imagined the exquisite details that are now visible in this image, constructed from twelve years of data — it was definitely worth the wait,” added Boris Gänsicke, a co-author of the study.

Remnants such as J1228+1040 can provide key clues to understanding the environments that exist as stars reach the ends of their lives. This can help astronomers to understand the processes that occur in exoplanetary systems and even forecast the fate of the Solar System when the Sun meets its demise in about seven billion years.

Notes
[1] The white dwarf’s full designation is SDSS J122859.93+104032.9.

[2] The team identified the unmistakable trident-like spectral signature from ionised calcium, called the calcium (Ca II) triplet. The difference between the observed and known wavelengths of these three lines can determine the velocity of the gas with considerable precision.

[3] Although the disc around this white dwarf is much bigger than Saturn’s ring system in the Solar System, it is tiny compared to the debris discs that form planets around young stars.

Source:ESO

A cartoon illustration of a levitated drop of superfluid helium. A single photon circulating inside the drop (red arrow) will be used to produce the superposition. The drop's gravitational field (illustrated schematically in the background) may play a role in limiting the lifetime of such a superposition.

Credit: Yale News

Opening a window on quantum gravity

Yale University has received a grant from the W. M. Keck Foundation to fund experiments that researchers hope will provide new insights into quantum gravity. Jack Harris, associate professor of physics, will lead a Yale team that aims to address a long-standing question in physics — how the classical behavior of macroscopic objects emerges from microscopic constituents that obey the laws of quantum mechanics.

Very small objects like photons and electrons are known for their odd behavior. Thanks to the laws of quantum mechanics, they can act as particles or waves, appear in multiple places at once, and mysteriously interact over great distances. The question is why these behaviors are not observed in larger objects.

A cartoon illustration of a levitated drop of superfluid helium. A single photon circulating inside the drop (red arrow) will be used to produce the superposition. The drop's gravitational field (illustrated schematically in the background) may play a role in limiting the lifetime of such a superposition. Credit: Yale News
A cartoon illustration of a levitated drop of superfluid helium. A single photon circulating inside the drop (red arrow) will be used to produce the superposition. The drop’s gravitational field (illustrated schematically in the background) may play a role in limiting the lifetime of such a superposition.
Credit: Yale News

Scientists know that friction plays an important part in producing classical behavior in macroscopic objects, but many suspect that gravity also suppresses quantum effects. Unfortunately, there has been no practical way to test this possibility, and in the absence of a full quantum theory of gravity, it is difficult even to make any quantitative predictions.

To address this problem, Harris will create a novel instrument that will enable a drop of liquid helium to exhibit quantum mechanical effects. “A millimeter across,” Harris said, “our droplet will be five orders of magnitude more massive than any other object in which quantum effects have been observed. It will enable us to explore quantum behavior on unprecedentedly macroscopic scales and to provide the first experimental tests of leading models of gravity at the quantum level.”

Game-changing research

The W.M. Keck Foundation grant will fund five years of activity at the Harris lab, which is part of Yale’s Department of Physics. In the first year, Harris and his team will construct their apparatus, and in subsequent years they will use it to perform increasingly sophisticated experiments.

“We are extremely grateful to the W.M. Keck Foundation for this generous support,” said Steven Girvin, the Eugene Higgins Professor of Physics and deputy provost for research. “This is a forward-looking grant that will advance truly ground-breaking research.”

Girvin, whose own research interests include quantum computing, described the Harris project as a possible game-changer. “Truly quantum mechanical behaviors have been observed in the flight of molecules through a vacuum and in the flow of electrons through superconductive circuits, but nothing has been accomplished on this scale. If Jack succeeds, this would be the first time that an object visible to the naked eye has bulk motion that exhibits genuine quantum mechanical effects.”

Into the whispering gallery

To explain his project, Harris invokes an architectural quirk of St. Paul’s cathedral, a London landmark with a famous “whispering gallery.” High up in its main dome, a whisper uttered against one wall is easily audible at great distances, as the sound waves skim along the dome’s interior. Harris plans to create his own whispering gallery, albeit on a smaller scale, using a droplet of liquid helium suspended in a powerful magnetic field. Rather than sound waves, Harris’ gallery will bounce a single photon.

This approach is closely related to an idea proposed by Albert Einstein in the 1920s, but until now, it has remained beyond the technical capabilities of experimentalists. To complete the experiment, Harris will need to combine recent advances in three different areas of physics: the study of optical cavities (objects that can capture photons), magnetic levitation, and the strange, frictionless world of superfluid helium. “Superfluid liquid helium has particular properties, like absence of viscosity and near-absence of optical absorption,” Harris explained. “In our device, a drop of liquid helium will be made to capture a single photon, which will bounce around inside. We expect to see the drop respond to the photon. “A photon always behaves quantum mechanically,” he added. “If you have a macroscopic object — our helium drop — that responds appreciably to a photon, the quantum mechanical behavior can be transferred to the large object. Our device will be ideally suited to studying quantum effects in the drop’s motion.” Potential applications for Harris’ research include new approaches to computing, cryptography, and communications. But Harris is most excited about the implications for fundamental physics: “Finding a theory of quantum gravity has been an outstanding challenge in physics for several decades, and it has proceeded largely without input from experiments. We hope that our research can provide some empirical data in this arena.”

About the W.M. Keck Foundation

The W.M. Keck Foundation was established in 1954 by William Myron Keck, founder of the Superior Oil Company. The foundation supports pioneering research in science, engineering, and medicine and has provided generous funding for numerous research initiatives at Yale University. In 2014, the Keck Foundation awarded a separate grant to a team of scientists led by Corey O’Hern, associate professor of mechanical engineering at Yale, to explore the physics of systems composed of macro-sized particles. Source : Yale News

The Wide Field Imager on the MPG/ESO 2.2-metre telescope at ESO’s La Silla Observatory in Chile has taken this beautiful image, dappled with blue stars, of one of the most star-rich open clusters currently known — Messier 11, also known as NGC 6705 or the Wild Duck Cluster. Credit: ESO

Discovery of new subatomic particle sheds light on fundamental force of nature

The discovery of a new particle will “transform our understanding” of the fundamental force of nature that binds the nuclei of atoms, researchers argue.

he Wide Field Imager on the MPG/ESO 2.2-metre telescope at ESO’s La Silla Observatory in Chile has taken this beautiful image, dappled with blue stars, of one of the most star-rich open clusters currently known — Messier 11, also known as NGC 6705 or the Wild Duck Cluster. Credit: ESO
Along with gravity, the electromagnetic interaction and weak nuclear force, strong-interactions are one of four fundamental forces. Lead scientist Professor Tim Gershon, from The University of Warwick’s Department of Physics, explains:
“Gravity describes the universe on a large scale from galaxies to Newton’s falling apple, whilst the electromagnetic interaction is responsible for binding molecules together and also for holding electrons in orbit around an atom’s nucleus.”
Image Credit: ESO

Led by scientists from the University of Warwick, the discovery of the new particle will help provide greater understanding of the strong interaction, the fundamental force of nature found within the protons of an atom’s nucleus.

Named Ds3*(2860)ˉ, the particle, a new type of meson,[1] was discovered by analysing data collected with the LHCb detector at CERN’s Large Hadron Collider (LHC)[2]. The LHCb experiment, which is run by a large international collaboration, is designed to study the properties of particles containing beauty and charm quarks and has unique capability for this kind of discovery.

The new particle is bound together in a similar way to protons. Due to this similarity, the Warwick researchers argue that scientists will now be able to study the particle to further understand strong interactions.

Along with gravity, the electromagnetic interaction and weak nuclear force, strong-interactions are one of four fundamental forces. Lead scientist Professor Tim Gershon, from The University of Warwick’s Department of Physics, explains:

“Gravity describes the universe on a large scale from galaxies to Newton’s falling apple, whilst the electromagnetic interaction is responsible for binding molecules together and also for holding electrons in orbit around an atom’s nucleus.”

The strong interaction is the force that binds quarks, the subatomic particles that form protons within atoms, together. It is so strong that the binding energy of the proton gives a much larger contribution to the mass, through Einstein’s equation E = mc2, than the quarks themselves.[3]

Due in part to the forces’ relative simplicity, scientists have previously been able to solve the equations behind gravity and electromagnetic interactions, but the strength of the strong interaction makes it impossible to solve the equations in the same way.

“Calculations of strong interactions are done with a computationally intensive technique called Lattice QCD,” says Professor Gershon. “In order to validate these calculations it is essential to be able to compare predictions to experiments. The new particle is ideal for this purpose because it is the first known that both contains a charm quark and has spin 3.”

There are six quarks known to physicists; Up, Down, Strange, Charm, Beauty and Top. Protons and neutrons are composed of up and down quarks, but particles produced in accelerators such as the LHC can contain the unstable heavier quarks. In addition, some of these particles have higher spin values than the naturally occurring stable particles.

“Because the Ds3*(2860)ˉ particle contains a heavy charm quark it is easier for theorists to calculate its properties. And because it has spin 3, there can be no ambiguity about what the particle is,” adds Professor Gershon. “Therefore it provides a benchmark for future theoretical calculations. Improvements in these calculations will transform our understanding of how nuclei are bound together.”

Spin is one of the labels used by physicists to distinguish between particles. It is a concept that arises in quantum mechanics that can be thought of as being similar to angular momentum: in this sense higher spin corresponds to the quarks orbiting each other faster than those with a lower spin.

Warwick Ph.D. student Daniel Craik, who worked on the study, adds “Perhaps the most exciting part of this new result is that it could be the first of many similar discoveries with LHC data. Whether we can use the same technique, as employed with our research into Ds3*(2860)ˉ, to also improve our understanding of the weak interaction is a key question raised by this discovery. If so, this could help to answer one of the biggest mysteries in physics: why there is more matter than antimatter in the Universe.”

The results are detailed in two papers that will be published in the next editions of the journals Physical Review Letters and Physical Review D. Both papers have been given the accolade of being selected as Editors’ Suggestions.

[1] The Ds3*(2860)ˉ particle is a meson that contains a charm anti-quark and a strange quark. The subscript 3 denotes that it has spin 3, while the number 2860 in parentheses is the mass of the particle in the units of MeV/c2 that are favoured by particle physicists. The value of 2860 MeV/c2 corresponds to approximately 3 times the mass of the proton.

[2] The particle was discovered in the decay chain Bs0D0Kπ+ , where the Bs0, D0, K and π+ mesons contain respectively a bottom anti-quark and a strange quark, a charm anti-quark and an up quark, an up anti-quark and a strange quark, and a down anti-quark and an up quark. The Ds3*(2860)ˉ particle is observed as a peak in the mass of combinations of the D0 and K mesons. The distributions of the angles between the D0, K and π+ particles allow the spin of the Ds3*(2860)ˉ meson to be unambiguously determined.

[3] Quarks are bound by the strong interaction into one of two types of particles: baryons, such as the proton, are composed of three quarks; mesons are composed of one quark and one anti-quark, where an anti-quark is the antimatter version of a quark.

The results are detailed in papers titled:

- The LHCb experiment is one of the four main experiments at the CERN Large Hadron Collider, and is set up to explore what happened after the Big Bang that allowed matter to survive and build the Universe we inhabit today. The LHCb collaboration comprises about 700 physicists from 67 institutes in 17 countries.

- CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, is the world’s leading laboratory for particle physics. It has its headquarters in Geneva. At present, its Member States are Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Israel, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom. Romania is a Candidate for Accession. Serbia is an Associate Member in the pre-stage to Membership. India, Japan, the Russian Federation, the United States of America, Turkey, the European Commission and UNESCO have Observer Status.

- The UK Science and Technology Facilities Council [www.stfc.ac.uk] coordinates and manages the UK’s involvement and subscription with CERN.

- The University of Warwick researchers who led this work are funded by the Science and Technology Facilities Council and the European Research Council.

- Further information on these results can be found in the LHCb collaboration public web page (http://lhcb-public.web.cern.ch/lhcb-public/Welcome.html#TwoSt) and the CERN Courier Sept. 2014 edition (http://cerncourier.com/cws/article/cern/58193)

Source: Warwick University

Carolina’s Laura Mersini-Houghton shows that black holes do not exist

Carolina’s Laura Mersini-Houghton shows that black holes do not exist

 

The term black hole is entrenched in the English language. Can we let it go?

(Chapel Hill, N.C. – Sept. 23, 2014) Black holes have long captured the public imagination and been the subject of popular culture, from Star Trek to Hollywood. They are the ultimate unknown – the blackest and most dense objects in the universe that do not even let light escape. And as if they weren’t bizarre enough to begin with, now add this to the mix: they don’t exist.

By merging two seemingly conflicting theories, Laura Mersini-Houghton, a physics professor at UNC-Chapel Hill in the College of Arts and Sciences, has proven, mathematically, that black holes can never come into being in the first place. The work not only forces scientists to reimagine the fabric of space-time, but also rethink the origins of the universe.

“I’m still not over the shock,” said Mersini-Houghton. “We’ve been studying this problem for a more than 50 years and this solution gives us a lot to think about.”

For decades, black holes were thought to form when a massive star collapses under its own gravity to a single point in space – imagine the Earth being squished into a ball the size of a peanut – called a singularity. So the story went, an invisible membrane known as the event horizon surrounds the singularity and crossing this horizon means that you could never cross back. It’s the point where a black hole’s gravitational pull is so strong that nothing can escape it.

The reason black holes are so bizarre is that it pits two fundamental theories of the universe against each other. Einstein’s theory of gravity predicts the formation of black holes but a fundamental law of quantum theory states that no information from the universe can ever disappear. Efforts to combine these two theories lead to mathematical nonsense, and became known as the information loss paradox.

In 1974, Stephen Hawking used quantum mechanics to show that black holes emit radiation. Since then, scientists have detected fingerprints in the cosmos that are consistent with this radiation, identifying an ever-increasing list of the universe’s black holes.

But now Mersini-Houghton describes an entirely new scenario. She and Hawking both agree that as a star collapses under its own gravity, it produces Hawking radiation. However, in her new work, Mersini-Houghton shows that by giving off this radiation, the star also sheds mass. So much so that as it shrinks it no longer has the density to become a black hole.

Before a black hole can form, the dying star swells one last time and then explodes. A singularity never forms and neither does an event horizon. The take home message of her work is clear: there is no such thing as a black hole.

The paper, which was recently submitted to ArXiv, an online repository of physics papers that is not peer-reviewed, offers exact numerical solutions to this problem and was done in collaboration with Harald Peiffer, an expert on numerical relativity at the University of Toronto. An earlier paper, by Mersini-Houghton, originally submitted to ArXiv in June, was published in the journal Physics Letters B, and offers approximate solutions to the problem.

Experimental evidence may one day provide physical proof as to whether or not black holes exist in the universe. But for now, Mersini-Houghton says the mathematics are conclusive.

Many physicists and astronomers believe that our universe originated from a singularity that began expanding with the Big Bang. However, if singularities do not exist, then physicists have to rethink their ideas of the Big Bang and whether it ever happened.

“Physicists have been trying to merge these two theories – Einstein’s theory of gravity and quantum mechanics – for decades, but this scenario brings these two theories together, into harmony,” said Mersini-Houghton. “And that’s a big deal.”

-Carolina-

Mersini-Houghton’s ArXiv papers:

Approximate solutions:http://arxiv.org/abs/arXiv:1406.1525

Exact solutions:http://arxiv.org/abs/arXiv:1409.1837

Source: UNC News