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BR 0331-1622: NASA Telescopes Set Limits on Space-time Quantum Foam
BR 0331-1622

  • X-ray and gamma-ray observations of distant quasars are being used to test space-time at extremely tiny scales.

  • Certain models predict tiny bubbles quadrillions of times smaller than the nucleus of an atom exist.

  • This "space-time foam" is impossible to observe directly so scientists use other methods to test ideas about it.

A new study combining data from NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory and Fermi Gamma-ray Telescope, and the Very Energetic Radiation Imaging Telescope Array (VERITAS) in Arizona is helping scientists set limits on the quantum nature of space-time on extremely tiny scales, as explained in our latest press release.

Certain aspects of quantum mechanics predict that space-time - the three dimensions of space plus time -- would not be smooth on the scale of about ten times a billionth of a trillionth of the diameter of a hydrogen atom's nucleus. They refer to the structure that may exist at this extremely small size as "space-time foam." This artist's illustration depicts how the foamy structure of space-time may appear, showing tiny bubbles quadrillions of times smaller than the nucleus of an atom that are constantly fluctuating and last for only infinitesimal fractions of a second.

Because space-time foam is so small, it is impossible to observe it directly. However, depending on what model of space-time is used, light that has traveled over great cosmic distances may be affected by the unseen foam in ways that scientists can analyze. More specifically, some models predict that the accumulation of distance uncertainties for light traveling across billions of light years would cause the image quality to degrade so much that the objects would become undetectable. The wavelength where the image disappears should depend on the model of space-time foam used.

The researchers used observations of X-rays and gamma-rays from very distant quasars - luminous sources produced by matter falling towards supermassive black holes - to test models of the smoothness and structure of space-time. Chandra's X-ray detection of six quasars, shown in the upper part of the graphic, at distances of billions of light years, rules out one model, according to which photons diffuse randomly through space-time foam in a manner similar to light diffusing through fog. Detections of distant quasars at shorter, gamma-ray wavelengths with Fermi and even shorter wavelengths with VERITAS demonstrate that a second, so-called holographic model with less diffusion does not work.

These results appeared in the May 20th issue of The Astrophysical Journal and are available online. The authors of this study are Eric Perlman (Florida Institute of Technology), Saul Rappaport (Massachusetts Institute of Technology), Wayne Christensen (University of North Carolina), Y. Jack Ng (University of North Carolina), John DeVore (Visidyne), and David Pooley (Sam Houston State University).

NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, manages the Chandra program for the agency's Science Mission Directorate in Washington. The Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory in Cambridge, Massachusetts, controls Chandra's science and flight operations.

Fast Facts for BR 0331-1622:
Credit  NASA/CXC/FIT/E.Perlman et al, Illustration: NASA/CXC/M.Weiss
Release Date  May 28, 2015
Scale  Image is 1 arcmin across. (about 1.34 million light years)
Category  Quasars & Active Galaxies
Coordinates (J2000)  RA 03h 34m 13.40s | Dec -16 12' 04.80"
Constellation  Eridanus
Observation Dates  17 Jun 2003
Observation Time  1 hours 23 min
Obs. IDs  4064
Instrument  ACIS
References Perlman, E. et al, 2015, ApJ, 805, 10; arXiv:1411.7262
Color Code  X-ray: Blue
X-ray
Distance Estimate  About 12.32 billion light years (z=4.36)
distance arrow
Fast Facts for BR 0353-3820:
Credit  NASA/CXC/FIT/E.Perlman et al, Illustration: NASA/CXC/M.Weiss
Release Date  May 28, 2015
Scale  Image is 1 arcmin across. (about 1.31 million light years)
Category  Quasars & Active Galaxies
Coordinates (J2000)  RA 03h 55m 04.90s | Dec -38 11' 42.30"
Constellation  Eridanus
Observation Dates  10 Sep 2003
Observation Time  1 hours 7 min
Obs. IDs  4065
Instrument  ACIS
References Perlman, E. et al, 2015, ApJ, 805, 10; arXiv:1411.7262
Color Code  X-ray: Blue
X-ray
Distance Estimate  About 12.39 billion light years (z=4.55)
distance arrow
Fast Facts for BR 0418-5723:
Credit  NASA/CXC/FIT/E.Perlman et al, Illustration: NASA/CXC/M.Weiss
Release Date  May 28, 2015
Scale  Image is 1 arcmin across. (about 1.33 million light years)
Category  Quasars & Active Galaxies
Coordinates (J2000)  RA 04h 19m 50.90s | Dec -57 16' 13.10"
Constellation  Reticulum
Observation Dates  17 Jun 2004
Observation Time  1 hours 7 min
Obs. IDs  4066
Instrument  ACIS
References Perlman, E. et al, 2015, ApJ, 805, 10; arXiv:1411.7262
Color Code  X-ray: Blue
X-ray
Distance Estimate  About 12.35 billion light years (z=4.46)
distance arrow
Fast Facts for BR 0424-2209:
Credit  NASA/CXC/FIT/E.Perlman et al
Release Date  May 28, 2015
Scale  Image is 1 arcmin across. (about 1.34 million light years)
Category  Quasars & Active Galaxies
Coordinates (J2000)  RA 04h 26m 10.30s | Dec -29 00' 28.00"
Constellation  Eridanus
Observation Dates  14 Dec 2002
Observation Time  24 hours 23 min (1 day 23 min)
Obs. IDs  4067
Instrument  ACIS
References Perlman, E. et al, 2015, ApJ, 805, 10; arXiv:1411.7262
Color Code  X-ray: Blue
X-ray
Distance Estimate  About 12.3 billion light years (z=4.32)
distance arrow
Fast Facts for PSS 0747+4434:
Credit  NASA/CXC/FIT/E.Perlman et al, Illustration: NASA/CXC/M.Weiss
Release Date  May 28, 2015
Scale  Image is 1 arcmin across. (about 1.33 million light years)
Category  Quasars & Active Galaxies
Coordinates (J2000)  RA 07h 47m 49.70s | Dec +44 34' 20.10"
Constellation  Lynx
Observation Dates  17 Dec 2002
Observation Time  24 hours 23 min (1 day 23 min)
Obs. IDs  4068
Instrument  ACIS
References Perlman, E. et al, 2015, ApJ, 805, 10; arXiv:1411.7262
Color Code  X-ray: Blue
X-ray
Distance Estimate  About 12.34 billion light yeras (z=4.43)
distance arrow
Fast Facts for PSS 1058+1245:
Credit  NASA/CXC/FIT/E.Perlman et al, Illustration: NASA/CXC/M.Weiss
Release Date  May 28, 2015
Scale  Image is 1 arcmin across. (about 1.34 million light years)
Category  Quasars & Active Galaxies
Coordinates (J2000)  RA 10h 58m 58.40s | Dec +12 45' 54.80"
Constellation  Leo
Observation Dates  02 Mar 2003
Observation Time  24 hours 23 min (1 day 23 min)
Obs. IDs  4069
Instrument  ACIS
References Perlman, E. et al, 2015, ApJ, 805, 10; arXiv:1411.7262
Color Code  X-ray: Blue
X-ray
Distance Estimate  About 12.3 billion light years (z=4.33)
distance arrow
Visitor Comments (5)

That is quite the theory.

Posted by Wade Born on Friday, 06.17.16 @ 19:13pm


Hi, does the space-time foam encircle the entire solar system? Thank you for making this data accessible and known.

Posted by Gail Hitson on Tuesday, 06.14.16 @ 17:55pm


Very useful information and interesting things.

Posted by Neymar Smith on Sunday, 11.22.15 @ 20:13pm


Thank you for this very informative article.

Posted by Cynthia Kay Castle on Thursday, 05.28.15 @ 13:03pm


Perhaps a kind of Foam could also contribute to the superconductivity of light, perhaps there are many kinds of Foams e.g. Light Friends , where we can distinguish objects at vast distances beyond 13.3 bly or further with better telescopes. Contrary to the one obscuring photons. May be this with x-rays and others can be seen by visible light, the different kind of sub atomic particles expelled out into space creates different new foam for light to travel. This is all a maybe, I love reading Chandra articles.

Posted by MAGDALENA on Thursday, 05.28.15 @ 12:12pm


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