What are the properties of the vacuum is “absolute nothing”? So far physicists believed that the properties of this “nothing”, i.e. the ground state of empty space, it is impossible to measure directly. However, scientists from the laboratory of Professor Alfred Leitenstorfer from the University of Konstanz in Germany managed to do when using the world advanced optical technology.
With the help of light pulses with a duration less than the half period of the light wave in the spectral range under study, they were able to observe vacuum fluctuations.
These fields exist even in the void in absolute darkness, even in the absence of light radiation and radio waves. The results of the study, which was attended by Russian scientists, are of fundamental importance for the further development of quantum physics. Their work in Friday’s issue of the scientific journal Science.
In the theory of the existence of vacuum fluctuations has long been known. It is permanent birth of particles and antiparticles built the famous theory of evaporation of black holes, suggested by the renowned British astrophysicist Stephen Hawking.
These fluctuations, associated with the birth and annihilation of virtual particles, follow from the uncertainty principle, Heisenberg, which States that electric and magnetic radiation field can never vanish simultaneously. Therefore, even if light and radio waves are in the ground state, and we have complete darkness
in any volume of space is still present finite fluctuations of the electromagnetic field.
However, until recently direct experimental observation of this fundamental phenomenon not thought possible. Scientists believed that vacuum fluctuations always manifest themselves in nature indirectly, leading to a wide range of effects. For example, in the form of spontaneous emission of light by excited atoms in the fluorescent lamp or influence on the structure of the universe in the big Bang.
Using the experimental setup, able to measure electric fields with ultrahigh temporal resolution and sensitivity, able to directly detect vacuum fluctuations, despite all the existing theoretical constraints. The basis for this was laid by the world’s leading optical technology and special laser systems for generating ultrashort radiation pulses of the highest stability created by a group of researchers at the University of Constance an international team of scientists.
In addition they developed a theoretical description of the obtained results on the basis of quantum field theory.
The temporal resolution used in the experiment, lies in the femtosecond range — millionths of a billionth of a second.
The measurements were performed with a sensitivity limited only by quantum nature of the field. “With such extreme precision that we can for the first time to observe directly that we are constantly surrounded by electromagnetic fields, vacuum fluctuations,” concludes Alfred Leitenstorfer, co-author of the work.
“Surprising from the point of view of science in our experiments is that we get direct access to the ground state of a quantum system without changing it, for example, amplification of any intensity,” explains Leitenstorfer, which does not hide that he surprised by the positive results of the experiment.
“It cost us a couple of years of sleepless nights, as it was necessary to avoid any likely spurious.”— the scientist grins. “In General, we can conclude that we have access to ultra-short time intervals, shorter than the period of oscillations of the studied light waves, is the key to understanding those amazing opportunities offered by our experiment,” he added.