Empty Space Around Neutron Stars May Be Subject To Quantum Effect Predicted 80 Years Ago
A new study on a dense neutron star has indicated that effects of quantum theory are holding true regarding its light emitting patterns. This was assessed after light waves from the star were getting distorted by the presence of adjoining vacuum space. That looks like a breakthrough in endorsing the famous theory of quantum effect proposed way back in 1930.
The study was conducted by Roberto Mignani from INAF Milan in Italy and his team. Their observations revealed the quantum effect known as "vacuum birefringence" subjected at the empty space near the neutron star.
The observations made by ESO's Very Large Telescope (VLT) were part of a detailed study of the neutron star RX J1856.5-3754 that is lying at 400 light-years away from Earth.
The star's light was so dim that astronomers could decipher it only with visible light by using the FORS2 instrument on the VLT telescope.
They observed that the neutron star's light was being distorted by the vacuum space implying it was not empty. As per quantum theory, the virtual particles in a vacuum space will act like prisms and distort light waves.
According to ESO, the observations seem to ratify the 80-year-old prediction on the interaction of light and matter at subatomic scales.
The proponents Werner Heisenberg and Hans Heinrich Euler argued that the impact of a strong magnetic on light can create a phenomenon called polarization. That is something like glare bouncing off a window. As light passes through a powerful magnetic field, a new alignment takes place and in a vacuum, that alignment will be dictated by virtual particles.
Incredibly Faint Light
The main trigger of the research was neutron star RX J1856.5-3754's light that was incredibly faint.
The linear polarization was found to be as high as 16 percent because of the vacuum birefringence in the empty space around the neutron star.
Lead author Mignani said the high linear polarization can only be explained by vacuum birefringence and no other model will account for that.
Co-author Roberto Turolla, a scientist at the University of Padua in Italy, said vacuum birefringence can be detected only in the presence of "enormously strong magnetic fields, such as those around neutron stars."
Characteristics Of Neutron Stars
It may be understood that neutron stars are hugely dense leftovers of the heavy cores of massive stars that have been burnt out as supernovae in the end. In terms of size, they are gigantic and 10 times more massive than sun.
Neutron stars also possess big magnetic fields that are billions of times stronger than the sun and exert power on the outer surface and surroundings.
The quantum theory as proposed by physicists Heisenberg and Euler works on the premise of strong magnetic fields changing the polarity of light waves in a vacuum. Polarity is basically the orientation of the light's electric and magnetic fields.