New Theory Says Schrödinger Equation Solves Mystery of Space's Largest Structures

Wednesday, 07 March 2018 - 10:41AM
Black Holes
Science News
Wednesday, 07 March 2018 - 10:41AM
New Theory Says Schrödinger Equation Solves Mystery of Space's Largest Structures
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Image credit: NASA

Let's get a few things straight right out the gate: First, the scientist Erwin Schrödinger did more in his life than muse on the specifics of murdering cats in boxes. Second, Schrödinger's Cat is meant as a metaphor for quantum physics, not the actual way that a cat would behave when shoved into a potentially-radioactive space.

This is important. One of the big challenges surrounding quantum mechanics, the field of study that Schrödinger is best known for, is that quantum materials—atoms and other teeny tiny particles—don't behave the same way as larger objects. Thus, quantum mechanics requires its own field of study, separate from classical mechanics.

Schrödinger pioneered an equation that provided the basis for work that eventually earned him a Nobel Prize. The Schrödinger Equation is essentially a guide to working out the behavior of certain quantum particles, and how they will behave under different conditions. This equation only applies to tiny atoms and the like and certainly doesn't describe the movement of bigger things like cats.

According to groundbreaking new research though, some of the most massive structures in the universe that also behave according to the Schrödinger Equation, showing signs that they adhere to the rules of quantum mechanics. A new paper from planetary scientist Konstantin Batygin of the California Institute of Technology claims that the biggest structures in space—stars, black holes, and planets—show off the same wave-like properties in their debris fields that can be seen in the movements of quantum particles.

If this is true, this is a phenomenal breakthrough, but not one that catches everyone by surprise. For a while now, it's been understood that big structures like neutron stars behave like atoms the size of mountains, and the same types of gravitational behavior can be seen on the quantum and celestial scale, as planets circle around stars in much the same way that electrons orbit neutrons within an atom.



The specifics of this new theory require advanced knowledge of quantum mechanics to really get a handle on, but those who've done their homework, such as astrophysicist Duncan Forgan of the University of Saint Andrews (who wasn't part of this new research) are on board with some of the claims made in the theory.

"This is a fascinating approach, synthesizing very old techniques to make a brand-new analysis of a challenging problem," Forgan told Scientific American. "The Schrödinger equation has been so well studied for almost a century that this connection is clearly handy."

This new theory will be put through the same academic rigor that all new insight into the cosmos must endure—namely, scrutiny, conjecture, debate, and further theorizing—in order to determine how valuable it is as a way of understanding the universe.

If Batygin's writing manages to survive this process intact, it could very well change the face of quantum mechanics, and the way we approach physics at any level, for many years to come.

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