Vacuum energy

Vacuum energy

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Vacuum energy is an underlying background energy
Energy
In physics, energy is an indirectly observed quantity. It is often understood as the ability a physical system has to do work on other physical systems...

 that exists in space
Space
Space is the boundless, three-dimensional extent in which objects and events occur and have relative position and direction. Physical space is often conceived in three linear dimensions, although modern physicists usually consider it, with time, to be part of a boundless four-dimensional continuum...

 even when the space is devoid of matter
Matter
Matter is a general term for the substance of which all physical objects consist. Typically, matter includes atoms and other particles which have mass. A common way of defining matter is as anything that has mass and occupies volume...

 (free space). The concept of vacuum energy has been deduced from the concept of virtual particles, which is itself derived from the energy-time uncertainty principle. The effects of vacuum energy can be experimentally observed in various phenomena such as spontaneous emission
Spontaneous emission
Spontaneous emission is the process by which a light source such as an atom, molecule, nanocrystal or nucleus in an excited state undergoes a transition to a state with a lower energy, e.g., the ground state and emits a photon...

, the Casimir effect
Casimir effect
In quantum field theory, the Casimir effect and the Casimir–Polder force are physical forces arising from a quantized field. The typical example is of two uncharged metallic plates in a vacuum, like capacitors placed a few micrometers apart, without any external electromagnetic field...

, the van der Waals bonds
Van der Waals force
In physical chemistry, the van der Waals force , named after Dutch scientist Johannes Diderik van der Waals, is the sum of the attractive or repulsive forces between molecules other than those due to covalent bonds or to the electrostatic interaction of ions with one another or with neutral...

  and the Lamb shift, and are thought to influence the behavior of the Universe
Universe
The Universe is commonly defined as the totality of everything that exists, including all matter and energy, the planets, stars, galaxies, and the contents of intergalactic space. Definitions and usage vary and similar terms include the cosmos, the world and nature...

 on cosmological scales
Physical cosmology
Physical cosmology, as a branch of astronomy, is the study of the largest-scale structures and dynamics of the universe and is concerned with fundamental questions about its formation and evolution. For most of human history, it was a branch of metaphysics and religion...

. Using the upper limit of the cosmological constant
Cosmological constant
In physical cosmology, the cosmological constant was proposed by Albert Einstein as a modification of his original theory of general relativity to achieve a stationary universe...

, the vacuum energy in a cubic centimeter of free space has been estimated to be 10−15 Joule
Joule
The joule ; symbol J) is a derived unit of energy or work in the International System of Units. It is equal to the energy expended in applying a force of one newton through a distance of one metre , or in passing an electric current of one ampere through a resistance of one ohm for one second...

s. However, in both Quantum Electrodynamics
Quantum electrodynamics
Quantum electrodynamics is the relativistic quantum field theory of electrodynamics. In essence, it describes how light and matter interact and is the first theory where full agreement between quantum mechanics and special relativity is achieved...

 (QED) and Stochastic Electrodynamics
Stochastic electrodynamics
In theoretical physics, Stochastic Electrodynamics is a variant of Classical Electrodynamics which posits the existence of a classical Lorentz Invariant radiation field having statistical properties similar to that of the electromagnetic zero-point field of Quantum Electrodynamics...

 (SED), consistency with the principle of Lorentz covariance
Lorentz covariance
In standard physics, Lorentz symmetry is "the feature of nature that says experimental results are independent of the orientation or the boost velocity of the laboratory through space"...

 and with the magnitude of the Planck Constant
Planck constant
The Planck constant , also called Planck's constant, is a physical constant reflecting the sizes of energy quanta in quantum mechanics. It is named after Max Planck, one of the founders of quantum theory, who discovered it in 1899...

 requires it to have a much larger value of 10113 Joules per cubic meter.

Origin


Quantum field theory
Quantum field theory
Quantum field theory provides a theoretical framework for constructing quantum mechanical models of systems classically parametrized by an infinite number of dynamical degrees of freedom, that is, fields and many-body systems. It is the natural and quantitative language of particle physics and...

 states that all fundamental fields
Field (physics)
In physics, a field is a physical quantity associated with each point of spacetime. A field can be classified as a scalar field, a vector field, a spinor field, or a tensor field according to whether the value of the field at each point is a scalar, a vector, a spinor or, more generally, a tensor,...

, such as the electromagnetic field
Electromagnetic field
An electromagnetic field is a physical field produced by moving electrically charged objects. It affects the behavior of charged objects in the vicinity of the field. The electromagnetic field extends indefinitely throughout space and describes the electromagnetic interaction...

, must be quantized
Quantization (physics)
In physics, quantization is the process of explaining a classical understanding of physical phenomena in terms of a newer understanding known as "quantum mechanics". It is a procedure for constructing a quantum field theory starting from a classical field theory. This is a generalization of the...

 at each and every point in space. A field in physics may be envisioned as if space were filled with interconnected vibrating balls and springs, and the strength of the field were like the displacement of a ball from its rest position. The theory requires "vibrations" in, or more accurately changes in the strength of, such a field to propagate as per the appropriate wave equation
Wave equation
The wave equation is an important second-order linear partial differential equation for the description of waves – as they occur in physics – such as sound waves, light waves and water waves. It arises in fields like acoustics, electromagnetics, and fluid dynamics...

 for the particular field in question. The second quantization of quantum field theory requires that each such ball-spring combination be quantized, that is, that the strength of the field be quantized at each point in space. Canonically, if the field at each point in space is a simple harmonic oscillator
Harmonic oscillator
In classical mechanics, a harmonic oscillator is a system that, when displaced from its equilibrium position, experiences a restoring force, F, proportional to the displacement, x: \vec F = -k \vec x \, where k is a positive constant....

, its quantization places a quantum harmonic oscillator
Quantum harmonic oscillator
The quantum harmonic oscillator is the quantum-mechanical analog of the classical harmonic oscillator. Because an arbitrary potential can be approximated as a harmonic potential at the vicinity of a stable equilibrium point, it is one of the most important model systems in quantum mechanics...

 at each point. Excitations of the field correspond to the elementary particle
Elementary particle
In particle physics, an elementary particle or fundamental particle is a particle not known to have substructure; that is, it is not known to be made up of smaller particles. If an elementary particle truly has no substructure, then it is one of the basic building blocks of the universe from which...

s of particle physics
Particle physics
Particle physics is a branch of physics that studies the existence and interactions of particles that are the constituents of what is usually referred to as matter or radiation. In current understanding, particles are excitations of quantum fields and interact following their dynamics...

. Thus, according to the theory, even the vacuum
Vacuum
In everyday usage, vacuum is a volume of space that is essentially empty of matter, such that its gaseous pressure is much less than atmospheric pressure. The word comes from the Latin term for "empty". A perfect vacuum would be one with no particles in it at all, which is impossible to achieve in...

 has a vastly complex structure and all calculations of quantum field theory must be made in relation to this model of the vacuum.

The theory considers vacuum to implicitly have the same properties as a particle, such as spin
Spin (physics)
In quantum mechanics and particle physics, spin is a fundamental characteristic property of elementary particles, composite particles , and atomic nuclei.It is worth noting that the intrinsic property of subatomic particles called spin and discussed in this article, is related in some small ways,...

 or polarization in the case of light
Light
Light or visible light is electromagnetic radiation that is visible to the human eye, and is responsible for the sense of sight. Visible light has wavelength in a range from about 380 nanometres to about 740 nm, with a frequency range of about 405 THz to 790 THz...

, energy, and so on. According to the theory, most of these properties cancel out on average leaving the vacuum empty in the literal sense of the word. One important exception, however, is the vacuum energy or the vacuum expectation value
Vacuum expectation value
In quantum field theory the vacuum expectation value of an operator is its average, expected value in the vacuum. The vacuum expectation value of an operator O is usually denoted by \langle O\rangle...

 of the energy. The quantization of a simple harmonic oscillator requires the lowest possible energy, or zero-point energy
Zero-point energy
Zero-point energy is the lowest possible energy that a quantum mechanical physical system may have; it is the energy of its ground state. All quantum mechanical systems undergo fluctuations even in their ground state and have an associated zero-point energy, a consequence of their wave-like nature...

 of such an oscillator to be:


Summing over all possible oscillators at all points in space gives an infinite quantity. To remove this infinity, one may argue that only differences in energy are physically measurable, much as the concept of potential energy
Potential energy
In physics, potential energy is the energy stored in a body or in a system due to its position in a force field or due to its configuration. The SI unit of measure for energy and work is the Joule...

 has been treated in classical mechanics
Classical mechanics
In physics, classical mechanics is one of the two major sub-fields of mechanics, which is concerned with the set of physical laws describing the motion of bodies under the action of a system of forces...

 for centuries. This argument is the underpinning of the theory of renormalization
Renormalization
In quantum field theory, the statistical mechanics of fields, and the theory of self-similar geometric structures, renormalization is any of a collection of techniques used to treat infinities arising in calculated quantities....

. In all practical calculations, this is how the infinity is handled.

Vacuum energy can also be thought of in terms of virtual particles (also known as vacuum fluctuations) which are created and destroyed out of the vacuum. These particles are always created out of the vacuum in particle-antiparticle
Antiparticle
Corresponding to most kinds of particles, there is an associated antiparticle with the same mass and opposite electric charge. For example, the antiparticle of the electron is the positively charged antielectron, or positron, which is produced naturally in certain types of radioactive decay.The...

 pairs, which shortly annihilate each other and disappear. However, these particles and antiparticles may interact with others before disappearing, a process which can be mapped using Feynman diagrams. Note that this method of computing vacuum energy is mathematically equivalent to having a quantum harmonic oscillator
Quantum harmonic oscillator
The quantum harmonic oscillator is the quantum-mechanical analog of the classical harmonic oscillator. Because an arbitrary potential can be approximated as a harmonic potential at the vicinity of a stable equilibrium point, it is one of the most important model systems in quantum mechanics...

 at each point and, therefore, suffers the same renormalization problems.

Additional contributions to the vacuum energy come from spontaneous symmetry breaking
Spontaneous symmetry breaking
Spontaneous symmetry breaking is the process by which a system described in a theoretically symmetrical way ends up in an apparently asymmetric state....

 in quantum field theory
Quantum field theory
Quantum field theory provides a theoretical framework for constructing quantum mechanical models of systems classically parametrized by an infinite number of dynamical degrees of freedom, that is, fields and many-body systems. It is the natural and quantitative language of particle physics and...

.

Implications


Vacuum energy has a number of consequences. In 1948, Dutch
Netherlands
The Netherlands is a constituent country of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, located mainly in North-West Europe and with several islands in the Caribbean. Mainland Netherlands borders the North Sea to the north and west, Belgium to the south, and Germany to the east, and shares maritime borders...

 physicist
Physicist
A physicist is a scientist who studies or practices physics. Physicists study a wide range of physical phenomena in many branches of physics spanning all length scales: from sub-atomic particles of which all ordinary matter is made to the behavior of the material Universe as a whole...

s Hendrik B. G. Casimir
Hendrik Casimir
Hendrik Brugt Gerhard Casimir FRS was a Dutch physicist best known for his research on the two-fluid model of superconductors in 1934 and the Casimir effect Hendrik Brugt Gerhard Casimir FRS (July 15, 1909 in The Hague, Netherlands – May 4, 2000 in Heeze) was a Dutch physicist best known...

 and Dirk Polder
Dirk Polder
Dirk Polder was a Dutch physicist who, together with Hendrik Casimir, first predicted the existence of what today is known as the Casimir-Polder force, sometimes also referred to as the Casimir effect or Casimir force. He also worked on the similar topic of radiative heat transfer at nanoscale.-...

 predicted the existence of a tiny attractive force between closely placed metal plates due to resonance
Resonance
In physics, resonance is the tendency of a system to oscillate at a greater amplitude at some frequencies than at others. These are known as the system's resonant frequencies...

s in the vacuum energy in the space between them. This is now known as the Casimir effect
Casimir effect
In quantum field theory, the Casimir effect and the Casimir–Polder force are physical forces arising from a quantized field. The typical example is of two uncharged metallic plates in a vacuum, like capacitors placed a few micrometers apart, without any external electromagnetic field...

 and has since been extensively experimentally verified. It is therefore believed that the vacuum energy is "real" in the same sense that more familiar conceptual objects such as electrons, magnetic fields, etc., are real. However, the Casimir effect is no certain proof for vacuum energy since it can also be explained without this theory.

Other predictions are harder to verify. Vacuum fluctuations are always created as particle/antiparticle pairs. The creation of these virtual particles near the event horizon
Event horizon
In general relativity, an event horizon is a boundary in spacetime beyond which events cannot affect an outside observer. In layman's terms it is defined as "the point of no return" i.e. the point at which the gravitational pull becomes so great as to make escape impossible. The most common case...

 of a black hole
Black hole
A black hole is a region of spacetime from which nothing, not even light, can escape. The theory of general relativity predicts that a sufficiently compact mass will deform spacetime to form a black hole. Around a black hole there is a mathematically defined surface called an event horizon that...

 has been hypothesized by physicist Stephen Hawking
Stephen Hawking
Stephen William Hawking, CH, CBE, FRS, FRSA is an English theoretical physicist and cosmologist, whose scientific books and public appearances have made him an academic celebrity...

 to be a mechanism for the eventual "evaporation" of black holes
Hawking radiation
Hawking radiation is a thermal radiation with a black body spectrum predicted to be emitted by black holes due to quantum effects. It is named after the physicist Stephen Hawking, who provided a theoretical argument for its existence in 1974, and sometimes also after the physicist Jacob Bekenstein...

. The net energy of the Universe remains zero so long as the particle pairs annihilate each other within Planck time
Planck time
In physics, the Planck time, , is the unit of time in the system of natural units known as Planck units. It is the time required for light to travel, in a vacuum, a distance of 1 Planck length...

. If one of the pair is pulled into the black hole before this, then the other particle becomes "real" and energy/mass is essentially radiated into space from the black hole. This loss is cumulative and could result in the black hole's disappearance over time. The time required is dependent on the mass of the black hole but could be on the order of 10100
Googol
A googol is the large number 10100, that is, the digit 1 followed by 100 zeros:The term was coined in 1938 by 9-year-old Milton Sirotta , nephew of American mathematician Edward Kasner...

 years for large solar-mass black holes.

The vacuum energy also has important consequences for physical cosmology
Physical cosmology
Physical cosmology, as a branch of astronomy, is the study of the largest-scale structures and dynamics of the universe and is concerned with fundamental questions about its formation and evolution. For most of human history, it was a branch of metaphysics and religion...

. Special relativity
Special relativity
Special relativity is the physical theory of measurement in an inertial frame of reference proposed in 1905 by Albert Einstein in the paper "On the Electrodynamics of Moving Bodies".It generalizes Galileo's...

 predicts that energy is equivalent to mass, and therefore, if the vacuum energy is "really there", it should exert a gravitational force. Essentially, a non-zero vacuum energy is expected to contribute to the cosmological constant
Cosmological constant
In physical cosmology, the cosmological constant was proposed by Albert Einstein as a modification of his original theory of general relativity to achieve a stationary universe...

, which affects the expansion of the universe. In the special case of vacuum energy, general relativity
General relativity
General relativity or the general theory of relativity is the geometric theory of gravitation published by Albert Einstein in 1916. It is the current description of gravitation in modern physics...

 stipulates that the gravitational field is proportional to ρ-3p (where ρ is the mass-energy density, and p is the pressure). Quantum theory of the vacuum further stipulates that the pressure of the zero-state vacuum energy is always negative and equal to ρ. Thus, the total of ρ-3p becomes -2ρ: A negative value. This calculation implies a repulsive gravitational field, giving rise to expansion, if indeed the vacuum ground state has non-zero energy. However, the vacuum energy is mathematically infinite without renormalization
Renormalization
In quantum field theory, the statistical mechanics of fields, and the theory of self-similar geometric structures, renormalization is any of a collection of techniques used to treat infinities arising in calculated quantities....

, which is based on the assumption that we can only measure energy in a relative sense, which is not true if we can observe it indirectly via the cosmological constant
Cosmological constant
In physical cosmology, the cosmological constant was proposed by Albert Einstein as a modification of his original theory of general relativity to achieve a stationary universe...

.

The existence of vacuum energy is also sometimes used as theoretical justification for the possibility of free energy machines. It has been argued that due to the broken symmetry (in QED), free energy does not violate conservation of energy, since the laws of thermodynamics only apply to equilibrium systems. However, consensus amongst physicists is that this is incorrect and that vacuum energy cannot be harnessed to generate free energy. In particular, the second law of thermodynamics
Second law of thermodynamics
The second law of thermodynamics is an expression of the tendency that over time, differences in temperature, pressure, and chemical potential equilibrate in an isolated physical system. From the state of thermodynamic equilibrium, the law deduced the principle of the increase of entropy and...

 is unaffected by the existence of vacuum energy. However, in Stochastic Electrodynamics
Stochastic electrodynamics
In theoretical physics, Stochastic Electrodynamics is a variant of Classical Electrodynamics which posits the existence of a classical Lorentz Invariant radiation field having statistical properties similar to that of the electromagnetic zero-point field of Quantum Electrodynamics...

, the energy density is taken to be a classical random noise wave field which consists of real electromagnetic noise waves propagating isotropically in all directions. The energy in such a wave field would seem to be accessible e.g. with nothing more complicated than a directional coupler. The most obvious difficulty appears to be the spectral distribution of the energy, which compatibility with Lorentz invariance requires to take the form Kf3, where K is a constant and f denotes frequency. It follows that the energy and momentum flux in this wave field only becomes significant at extremely short wavelengths where directional coupler technology is currently lacking.

History


In 1934, Georges Lemaître
Georges Lemaître
Monsignor Georges Henri Joseph Édouard Lemaître was a Belgian priest, astronomer and professor of physics at the Catholic University of Louvain. He was the first person to propose the theory of the expansion of the Universe, widely misattributed to Edwin Hubble...

 used an unusual perfect-fluid
Ideal gas
An ideal gas is a theoretical gas composed of a set of randomly-moving, non-interacting point particles. The ideal gas concept is useful because it obeys the ideal gas law, a simplified equation of state, and is amenable to analysis under statistical mechanics.At normal conditions such as...

 equation of state
Equation of state
In physics and thermodynamics, an equation of state is a relation between state variables. More specifically, an equation of state is a thermodynamic equation describing the state of matter under a given set of physical conditions...

 to interpret the cosmological constant as due to vacuum energy. In 1948, the Casimir effect
Casimir effect
In quantum field theory, the Casimir effect and the Casimir–Polder force are physical forces arising from a quantized field. The typical example is of two uncharged metallic plates in a vacuum, like capacitors placed a few micrometers apart, without any external electromagnetic field...

 provided the first experimental verification of the existence of vacuum energy. In 1957, Lee
Tsung-Dao Lee
Tsung-Dao Lee is a Chinese born-American physicist, well known for his work on parity violation, the Lee Model, particle physics, relativistic heavy ion physics, nontopological solitons and soliton stars....

 and Yang proved the concepts of broken symmetry and parity violation, for which they won the Nobel prize. In 1973, Edward Tryon
Edward Tryon
Edward P. Tryon is an American scientist from Terre Haute, Indiana and a professor of physics at Hunter College in Manhattan. His specialization is in theoretical quark models, theoretical general relativity, and cosmology. In 1973 he proposed that the universe is a large-scale vacuum energy...

 proposed that the Universe may be a large-scale quantum-mechanical vacuum fluctuation where positive mass
Mass
Mass can be defined as a quantitive measure of the resistance an object has to change in its velocity.In physics, mass commonly refers to any of the following three properties of matter, which have been shown experimentally to be equivalent:...

-energy is balanced by negative gravitational potential energy
Potential energy
In physics, potential energy is the energy stored in a body or in a system due to its position in a force field or due to its configuration. The SI unit of measure for energy and work is the Joule...

. During the 1980s, there were many attempts to relate the fields that generate the vacuum energy to specific fields that were predicted by attempts at a Grand unification theory
Grand unification theory
The term Grand Unified Theory, often abbreviated as GUT, refers to any of several similar candidate models in particle physics in which at high-energy, the three gauge interactions of the Standard Model which define the electromagnetic, weak, and strong interactions, are merged into one single...

 and to use observations of the Universe to confirm one or another version. However, the exact nature of the particles (or fields) that generate vacuum energy, with a density such as that required by inflation theory, remains a mystery.

See also

  • Casimir effect
    Casimir effect
    In quantum field theory, the Casimir effect and the Casimir–Polder force are physical forces arising from a quantized field. The typical example is of two uncharged metallic plates in a vacuum, like capacitors placed a few micrometers apart, without any external electromagnetic field...

  • Cosmological constant
    Cosmological constant
    In physical cosmology, the cosmological constant was proposed by Albert Einstein as a modification of his original theory of general relativity to achieve a stationary universe...

  • Dark energy
    Dark energy
    In physical cosmology, astronomy and celestial mechanics, dark energy is a hypothetical form of energy that permeates all of space and tends to accelerate the expansion of the universe. Dark energy is the most accepted theory to explain recent observations that the universe appears to be expanding...

  • False vacuum
    False vacuum
    In quantum field theory, a false vacuum is a metastable sector of space that appears to be a perturbative vacuum, but is unstable due to instanton effects that may tunnel to a lower energy state. This tunneling can be caused by quantum fluctuations or the creation of high-energy particles...

  • Heisenberg's Uncertainty principle
    Uncertainty principle
    In quantum mechanics, the Heisenberg uncertainty principle states a fundamental limit on the accuracy with which certain pairs of physical properties of a particle, such as position and momentum, can be simultaneously known...

  • Lambdavacuum solution
    Lambdavacuum solution
    In general relativity, a lambdavacuum solution is an exact solution to the Einstein field equation in which the only term in the stress-energy tensor is a cosmological constant term...

  • Quantum electrodynamics
    Quantum electrodynamics
    Quantum electrodynamics is the relativistic quantum field theory of electrodynamics. In essence, it describes how light and matter interact and is the first theory where full agreement between quantum mechanics and special relativity is achieved...

  • Stochastic electrodynamics
    Stochastic electrodynamics
    In theoretical physics, Stochastic Electrodynamics is a variant of Classical Electrodynamics which posits the existence of a classical Lorentz Invariant radiation field having statistical properties similar to that of the electromagnetic zero-point field of Quantum Electrodynamics...

  • Vacuum state
    Vacuum state
    In quantum field theory, the vacuum state is the quantum state with the lowest possible energy. Generally, it contains no physical particles...

  • Virtual particles
  • Zero-point energy
    Zero-point energy
    Zero-point energy is the lowest possible energy that a quantum mechanical physical system may have; it is the energy of its ground state. All quantum mechanical systems undergo fluctuations even in their ground state and have an associated zero-point energy, a consequence of their wave-like nature...

  • Zero-point field
  • Zero-energy Universe
    Zero-energy Universe
    The zero-energy universe hypothesis states that the total amount of energy in the universe is exactly zero. When the energy of the universe is considered from a pseudo-tensor point of view, zero values are obtained in the resulting calculations...


External articles and references