Biggest Unanswered Questions in Physics
If Isaac Newton appeared from the past, he would be overjoyed to see how far physics had advanced and had answered unanswered questions. Topics that were once highly mysterious are now covered in introductory physics courses (the composition of stars is one good example).
Huge experiments like the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) in Switzerland would astound Newton. He would also likely be miffed to find that Einstein’s theory of gravity has supplanted Newton’s. Although modern scientists share his opinion, he would likely find quantum mechanics odd.
Formation of matter: unanswered questions
IMAGE CREDITS: istockphoto.com
We are aware that matter is formed of atoms, and that protons, neutrons, and electrons make up each atom. We also know that quarks, which are smaller particles, make up protons and neutrons. Will going further reveal even more fundamental particles? We are unsure for sure.
The Standard Model of particle physics, which is what we do have, is extraordinarily effective at explaining the interactions between subatomic particles. The existence of previously unidentified particles has also been predicted using the Standard Model. The Higgs boson was the last particle to be identified in this manner; it was found by LHC physicists in 2012.
Weird gravity: unanswered questions
Gravity is the most familiar force since it maintains our feet on the earth. Moreover, gravity is mathematically described in Einstein’s theory of general relativity as a “warping” of space. But compared to the other three forces known to science, gravity is a trillion times less (electromagnetism and the two kinds of nuclear forces that operate over tiny distances).
One hypothesis is that there are hidden extra dimensions that are “curled up” in a way that makes them difficult to see in addition to the three dimensions of space that we regularly observe. Why gravity looks so faint to us might be explained if these extra dimensions are real and if gravity can “leak” into them.
Why does it seem like time moves in only one direction?: unanswered questions
IMAGE CREDITS: Unsplash.com
Since Einstein, space and time have been viewed by physicists as constituting a four-dimensional structure known as “spacetime.” But there are several very basic ways that space is different from time. We have complete freedom to move around in space. All are constrained by the passage of time. We age, not get younger. We also have trouble remembering the future. Physics experts refer to this favoured direction as the “arrow of time” because time, unlike space, appears to have one.
According to some physicists, the second rule of thermodynamics might hold the key. A physical system’s entropy is said to increase through time, and physicists believe that this increase is what gives time its direction.
The antimatter disappeared, but where?: unanswered questions
In fiction, antimatter may be more well-known than it is in reality. The warp drive that propels the U.S.S. Enterprise at faster-than-light velocities in the original Star Trek is powered by an interaction between antimatter and conventional matter. Contrary to popular belief, antimatter exists in the actual world. We are aware that an identical particle with the opposite electrical charge can exist for every particle of conventional matter. For instance, an antiproton is a proton with a negative charge. The positively charged positron, on the other hand, is the antiparticle to the negatively charged electron.
In the lab, physicists have produced antimatter. But, they produce an equivalent amount of matter when they do. It implies that matter and antimatter must have been produced in equal amounts during the Big Bang. Nonetheless, the majority of everything we perceive in the world, from the ground beneath our feet to the farthest galaxies, is composed of common material.
What transpires in the transitional state between liquid and solid?
IMAGE CREDITS: Unsplash.com
It is commonly known how solids and liquids behave. Yet, certain substances behave both like a liquid and a solid, making it difficult to predict their behavior. One instance is sand. A single grain of sand is as solid as a rock, but a million can practically flow like water through a funnel. Highway traffic can act similarly, flowing smoothly until a bottleneck causes it to become congested. So, a deeper comprehension of this “grey zone” may have significant practical implications.
Can a single unified theory of physics be discovered?
These days, general relativity, the theory of gravity proposed by Albert Einstein, and quantum mechanics serve as the two overarching frameworks for virtually all physical phenomena. From golf balls to galaxies, the former is effective at explaining motion. Even in its own sphere, the world of atoms and subatomic particles, quantum mechanics is astounding.
The problem is that the two theories have quite different descriptions of our environment. While spacetime is fluid in general relativity, it is fixed in quantum mechanics, where events take place. What would the structure be of a quantum theory of curved space-time? Carroll states that we are unsure. We have no idea of what we are attempting to quantify.
How did life begin in the absence of living things?
IMAGE CREDITS: istockphoto.com
Earth was lifeless for its first half-billion years. Life then began to flourish and has done so ever since. Yet, how did life begin? Before biological evolution, simple inorganic molecules are thought to have undergone chemical evolution, interacting to create more complex organic compounds, most likely in the oceans. So what was the first catalyst for this process?
Dr. Jeremy England, an MIT physicist, recently proposed a theory that seeks to explain the genesis of life in terms of basic physics. According to this theory, increasing entropy must eventually lead to life. According to England, if the idea is accurate, the emergence of life “should be as unsurprising as rocks sliding downhill,” a magazine in 2014.
The concept is quite speculative. But, recent computer simulations might be supporting it. The simulations demonstrate that typical chemical interactions, such as those that would have occurred often on a freshly formed Earth, can produce highly structured molecules, which appear to be an essential first step on the way to the development of living things.