Neutron star brings to “light” quantum phenomenon predicted 80 years ago


Studying the light that emits an extremely dense neutron star, surrounded by a strong magnetic field, astronomers have found first evidence of a paradox of quantum physics. This phenomenon, called the birefringence of vacuum, is provided from the 1930s.

In its observations, the team of astronomers used the Very Large Telescope, which is owned by the European Southern Observatory (ESO), located in Paranal Observatory in Chile. This studied the neutron star RX J1856.5-3754, which is located 400 light years from Earth.

In neutron stars massive stars end up with a mass at least 10 times the Sun. Apart from the great density, these celestial bodies have very strong magnetic fields, billions of times stronger than the sun.

These fields have so much tension that can affect even the properties of empty space surrounding the stars. In the framework of classical physics, as defined empty space that is completely empty of material, which means that the light propagates in the same.

In yet quantum physics, namely quantum electrodynamics explains the interactions of photons with charged particles such as electrons, the void space is filled by virtual particles, which are produced and annihilated quickly.

This means that if there is a strong magnetic field, the empty space alters a property of the transmitted light, which is known as polarization. As characteristics explains Site ESO’s Roberto Miniani, from the National Institute of Astrophysics in Milan and member of the group: “According to quantum electrodynamics, under the influence of a strong magnetic field, the gap affects the propagation of light like a prism. A phenomenon known as birefringence of the void. “

However, as in several other projections of a particular theory, this phenomenon has so far been confirmed by experiments as needed a very strong magnetic field. Thus, remained a theoretical case to date, 80 years from first formulated by the famous natural Werner Heisenberg and his student Heinrich Euler.

But using as an experimental laboratory of neutron star, and analyzing the data collected, astronomers have identified a disorder ( “linear polarization”) light, which reaches 16%. A result, as claimed, is not easily explained by models unless include the influence of birefringence of the vacuum.

Currently, scientists are talking about evidence, not proof, but which could arise from more advanced telescopes like the Very Large Telescope of ESO, which is under construction. Also, they note that their discovery opens the way for similar studies not only to visible light but in X-ray wavelengths.

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