- Education and Science
Reawakening the Luminiferous Aether - 4
Spacetime may exist as
an ocean of antineutrinos
created by Earth and
revolving around us.
Sometimes, physics is good at painting itself into corners. One of these mishaps occurred before the advent of quantum theory, and still puzzles people today. When the nucleus of the atom was discovered and noted as having a positive charge, while the circling electrons were known to be negatively charged, it was natural to ask: what stops them from recombining, and our entire world from collapsing inwards in the process?
It's still a big question. Although quantum physics is now a full century and an enormous amount of theoretical work further forward, the answer to this is far from simple. The difficulty is that the abstract quantum wavefunction which amongst other things was found to prevent electrons from falling into protons cannot be attached to anything that actually exists, and so it remains a miracle cure. The reason it does this could well be because spacetime is conventionally defined as consisting of nothing.
This definition means that physicists have retained the freedom to harness a particularly important but unproven assumption, one which to my knowledge has never been questioned or discussed in any textbook. It has always been taken for granted that the three dimensions of space and one of time are in principle infinitesimally sharp, and so they must inevitably meet at a zero-dimensional point.
If spacetime consists of something which has small-scale structure, that assumption may be invalid. We don't yet know what the aether is, but it would be sensible to discard anything arising from the conceptual paradox of nothing, especially if a better assumption became available. In this case, one just might be on call. Spacetime may be naturally divergent at the atomic level.
By divergent, I mean it splays out in some definable fashion. It might do this because it would contain an intrinsic quality of energy-time, which locally creates what we recognise as a cosmological constant that stretches it. We'll find out where that energy could come from in a little while. Metaphysically, why it should exist in this way would be due to the aesthetic requirement that matter is incapable of entering the Universe by itself, and needs a complementary immaterial partner.
Recall that elementary particle theory regards matter as tiny hard discrete entities. Hardness and small size are related to convergence, and aren't absolute - elementary particles such as the proton and neutron are transformed into quarks and back again in high-energy accelerators. The divergence of spacetime would permit an essential duality against matter to arise, in order to create a tension between opposites that allows our Universe to exist in just the way we observe and measure it. A possible physical reason why that tension shows itself can be traced to an elementary source: the phenomenon of free neutron decay, and the "ghost particle" known as the antineutrino.
Except for hydrogen, all atoms consist of a tiny central nucleus of positively-charged protons p+ and neutrons with no charge no, with negatively-charged electrons e- circling at relatively large distances as a probability cloud. Strangely, the neutron creates the other two particles whenever it exists as an unstable free particle itself, but remains intact when it is stably bound together with the protons in the nucleus. It is this Jekyll-and-Hyde existence which could be the source of spacetime.
Hydrogen, which has a single proton and a single electron, is essentially nothing more than the stable end product of free neutron decay. As well as those two particles with their opposite charges, however, some energy is removed during decay in the form of a quantum property called spin by the uncharged, essentially massless, antineutrino υ. The resulting natural transmutation of the free neutron has a half-life of about 15 minutes. We can symbolically represent it as:
no = p+ + e- + υ
Poor ghost particle! In materialistic terms, the other three particles in conjunction with the energetic photon form our entire physically-measurable Universe. Yet the antineutrino, which should have just as important a role, is consigned to the cosmic rubbish dump. Because physics understands it only as an essential ingredient of supernovae, it is otherwise condemned to wander empty space forever at the velocity of light.
Intuitively, this feels wrong. Only a little thought is needed to realise that since two particles are being created from one, the emerging antineutrino might be connected to the actual physical separation between the proton and the electron. Furthermore, it indicates a reason why the resulting arrangement is so stable despite their opposite charges: spacetime may literally turn inside-out during the neutron decay process. As previously mentioned, that spacetime could be divergent due to a hidden energy content. We can now conjecture that this energy might well come from the antineutrino's quantum spin.
In that case, wherever matter exists so also do antineutrinos. They are somehow linked into the endless circulation of all those squillions of electrons around the nuclei of atoms which form the essential daily diet of existence. We could be immersed in an ocean of them without knowing except for one vital physical property. All those tiny rotations might combine to create the one enormous effect of a spacetime which revolves around Earth.
It is absolutely certain that something must be going round, either Earth or spacetime. In 1971, an experiment to measure the time-dilation effect of that spin was carried out. Four atomic clocks were carried on board commercial jet flights around the world, once towards the east and once towards the west. Relative to the reference clocks at the U.S. Naval Observatory, the flying clocks lost nearly 60 nanoseconds during the eastward trip and gained over 270 nanoseconds during the westward trip, both values within the error margin of theoretical calculations.
If Earth is turning and spacetime consists of nothing, though, what is our planet turning relative to? Matter is blind and cannot see the stars or galaxies, so it has no way of knowing where the rest of the Universe is. On the other hand, if spacetime consists of something which does the time-turning carrying the rest of the observable Universe with it, Earth's mass and inertia act as a real frame of reference. In fact, the theoretical calculations carried out by the experimenters needed to take the centre of the Earth as an inertial frame of reference, but with the proviso that time measured by the master clock there is hypothetical (which is reasonable, as clocks don't work very well at the Earth's core).
How might the 1971 time-dilation measurements confirm or deny the original 1887 attempt to find evidence for the existence of the luminiferous aether?
A simple calculation shows that the Michelson-Morley experiment to measure the aether drift could have been looking for the wrong effect, irrespective of the later predictions of special relativity. They were anticipating a mean orbital velocity of close to 30 kilometres per second for an Earth moving round the Sun. Should spacetime instead be revolving around Earth, its velocity at the surface of Earth near the equator would be given closely by 2π times Earth's equatorial radius of 6378 kilometres divided by the sidereal day of 86,164 seconds, or 0.465 kilometres per second westwards. This very much smaller velocity would have been below the level of detection for their experiment.
The final element of proof that spacetime could consist of something which revolves around Earth comes from the Sun's corona. Pictures taken at X-ray energies show dark patches called coronal holes. The 27-day period of the Sun turning on its own axis becomes larger at higher southerly or northerly latitudes, reaching values of 34 to 36 days near the poles. Strangely though, coronal holes don't show this differential rotation, and so they maintain structural integrity during their own 27-day rotation period. This means that the turning force must be directed inwards from space, and not outwards from the Sun.
Lastly, an intriguing thought to consider:
In the third part of this article we saw how revolving spacetime could in simple theory go out as far as the limit of the Solar System, but no further due to the transverse velocity reaching that of light. Both time and energy would be massively dilated there, so much so that truly enormous energies might easily be created. In his well-known 1988 book "A Brief History of Time", renowned mathematical physicist Stephen Hawking makes the point that achievable energies using earthbound particle accelerators are infinitesimal compared to the energy needed to unify three of the four natural forces, and to attain that level while still excluding gravity would require an accelerator the size of - you've guessed it - our Solar System.
Hafele, J.C., and Keating, R.E., Science, Vol. 177, p. 166 (1972)