Speed of light and other natural constants are indications of the total number of elementary particles in nature | my interest | Scoop.it

A quantum level mechanism for interpreting vacuum as being filled with pairs of virtual particles with fluctuating energy values has been identified by scientists at the University of Paris-Sud, France, meaning that the inherent characteristics of vacuum, like the speed of light, may not be a constant after all, but fluctuate.


This research comes at the same time as a study conducted at the Max Planck Institute for the Physics of Light in Erlangen, Germany, suggest that physical constants, such as the speed of light and the so called impedance of free space, are indications of the total number of elementary particles in nature.


When observed at the quantum level, vacuum is not empty. It is filled with continuously appearing and disappearing particle pairs such as electron-positron or quark-antiquark pairs. These ephemeral particles are real particles, but their lifetimes are extremely short.


In the French study, Professor Marcel Urban and colleagues established, for the first time, a detailed quantum mechanism that would explain the magnetisation and polarisation of the vacuum, referred to as vacuum permeability and permittivity, and the finite speed of light. This finding is relevant because it suggests the existence of a limited number of ephemeral particles per unit volume in a vacuum. As a result, there is a theoretical possibility that the speed of light is not fixed, as conventional physics has assumed.


Instead, they argue, it could fluctuate at a level independent of the energy of each light quantum, or photon, and greater than fluctuations induced by quantum level gravity. The speed of light would thus be dependent on variations in the vacuum properties of space or time. The fluctuations of the photon propagation time are estimated to be on the order of 50 attoseconds per square metre of crossed vacuum, which might be testable with the help of new ultra-fast lasers.


The German study, meanwhile, led by Professors Gerd Leuchs and Luis L Sánchez-Soto, modelled virtual charged particle pairs as electric dipoles responsible for the polarisation of the vacuum. They found that a specific property of vacuum called the impedance, which is crucial to determining the speed of light, depends only on the sum of the square of the electric charges of particles but not on their masses.


If this is proved to be correct, the value of the speed of light combined with the value of vacuum impedance gives an indication of the total number of charged elementary particles existing in nature. Experimental results support this hypothesis.

Via Dr. Stefan Gruenwald