Never Before Seen Strange Quantum Distortion Observed In Empty Space


Never before Seen Strange Quantum Distortion Observed In Empty Space

Credits: ESO

A very weird and never before seen phenomenon is known as a vacuum birefringence was observed only on an atomic scale. It’s known to appear around neutron stars with extremely powerful magnetic fields that give rise to a region of empty space to generate matter and then make it disappear.

This polarisation of light in a vacuum related to strong magnetic fields was thought possible as early as the 1930’s by two physicists – Werner Heisenberg and Hans Heinrich Euler. They saw it as a possible product of the quantum electrodynamics (QED) theory. This theory talks about how light and matter interact with each other.

And interestingly enough, this strange quantum distortion has been observed by a team of scientists from Italy and Poland. By making use of the European Southern Observatory’s (ESO) Very Large Telescope (VLT), the team was able to observe a neutron star, roughly 400 light-years away. Neutron stars, in general, have very powerful magnetic fields of their own.

According to Einstein and Newton, vacuums are empty space where light passes through without anything to hinder it or affect it in the slightest. But according to quantum electrodynamics, this is not the case. “Empty space” is actually full of virtual particles that continuously pop in and out of existence. And strong magnetic fields can and will modify these vacuums.

“The high linear [polarization] that we measured with the VLT can’t be easily explained by our models unless the vacuum birefringence effects predicted by QED are included,” said Mignani.

But the technology used is not as powerful as it should, so as to see exactly what’s happening. With better telescopes, much more can be discovered or understood about the phenomenon.


“[Polarization] measurements with the next generation of telescopes, such as ESO’s European Extremely Large Telescope (EELT), could play a crucial role in testing QED predictions of vacuum birefringence effects around many more neutron stars,” he said.

“This measurement, made for the first time now in visible light, also paves the way to similar measurements to be carried out at X-ray wavelengths,” researcher Kinwah Wu said.