Physicists have found a way to cause a strange glow of warp acceleration

(ORDO NEWS) — Called the Fulling-Davies-Unruh effect (or sometimes just the Unruh effect if you’re pressed for time), this eerie glow of radiation from the vacuum is reminiscent of the mysterious Hawking radiation thought to surround black holes.

Only in this case it is the result of acceleration, not gravity.

Don’t you feel? There is a good reason for this. To feel even the weakest rays of Unruh, you need to move at an impossible speed.

So far, this effect remains a purely theoretical phenomenon that we are unable to measure. But that may soon change after a discovery made by researchers at the University of Waterloo in Canada and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

Back to basics, they demonstrated that there was a way to stimulate the Unruh effect so that it could be studied directly under less extreme conditions.

In an unexpected twist, they may also have uncovered the secret of turning matter invisible.

However, the real prize will be the discovery of new possibilities in experiments aimed at combining two powerful but incompatible theories in physics – one describes the behavior of particles, the other – the curvature of space and time.

“The theory of general relativity and the theory of quantum mechanics are currently still somewhat contradictory, but there must be a unifying theory that describes how everything functions in the universe,” says mathematician Achim Kempf of the University of Waterloo.

“We have been looking for a way to combine these two big theories, and this work helps us get closer to that by opening up opportunities to test new theories through experiments.”

The Unruh effect sits right on the edge of quantum laws and general relativity.

According to quantum physics, an atom sitting all alone in a vacuum must wait for an incoming photon to sweep through an electromagnetic field and cause its electrons to wiggle before it can consider itself illuminated.

If you take relativity into account, there is a way to cheat. Simply by accelerating, the atom can perceive the smallest fluctuations in the surrounding electromagnetic field as low-energy photons, transformed using a kind of Doppler effect.

This interaction between the relative experience of waves in a quantum field and the wiggle of the electrons of an atom is based on the general synchronization of their frequencies. Any quantum effects that are independent of time are usually ignored, as on paper they tend to cancel out in the long run.

Together with colleagues Vivishek Sudhir and Barbara Soda, Kempf showed that when an atom is accelerated, these usually insignificant conditions become much more significant and can actually take over the role of dominant effects.

By tickling the atom in the right way, such as with a powerful laser, they showed that it was possible to use these alternative interactions to make moving atoms experience the Unruch effect without the need for large accelerations.

As a bonus, the team also found that, given the right trajectory, an accelerating atom can become transparent to incoming light, effectively suppressing its ability to absorb or emit certain photons.

Not to mention science fiction applications, finding ways to influence the ability of an accelerating atom to interact with pulsations in a vacuum may allow us to find new ways where quantum physics and general relativity give way to a new theoretical framework.

“For more than 40 years, experiments have been held back by the inability to explore the interface between quantum mechanics and gravity,” says Sudhir, a physicist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

“Now we have a real opportunity to explore this interface in the lab. If we can figure out some of these important questions, it could change everything.”


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