Weird quantum objects known as Q balls could explain why we exist (2024)

Weird quantum objects known as Q balls could explain why we exist (1)

One of the biggest cosmological mysteries is why the universe is made up of way more matter than antimatter, essentially why we exist. Now, a team of theoretical physicists says they know how to find the answer. All they need to do is detect the gravitational waves produced by bizarre quantum objects called Q balls.

Every kind of ordinary matter particle has an antimatter partner with opposing characteristics — and when matter interacts with antimatter, the two annihilate each other. That fact makes our existence a mystery, as cosmologists are pretty sure that at the dawn of the universe, equal amounts of matter and antimatter were produced; those matter and antimatter partners should have all annihilated each other, leaving the universe devoid of any matter at all. Yet matter exists, and researchers are slowly uncovering the reasons why.

One potential reason may lie in Q balls, theoretical "lumps" that formed in the moments after the Big Bang, before the universe inflated rapidly like a balloon. These objects would contain their own matter-antimatter asymmetry, meaning within each Q ball would exist unequal portions of matter and antimatter. As these Q balls "popped" they would have released more matter than antimatter — and unleashed gravitational ripples in space-time. If these objects really existed, we could detect them using gravitational waves, according to a new paper published Oct. 27 in the journal Physical Review Letters.

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According to particle physics, the fabric of the universe is covered in different quantum fields, each of which describes some property (like electromagnetism) at all points in space. Fluctuations in these fields give rise to the fundamental particles that make up our physical reality. To illustrate how these fields work, imagine a trampoline with a bowling ball sitting in the center. The shape that the bowling ball gives the trampoline represents how much energy any point on the field is contributing to the universe — the closer to the center depression, the greater the potential energy. Just as the shape of the trampoline's surface governs how a marble would roll around the bowling ball, the "shape" of a field governs the field's behavior.

One theory, proposed in 1985 by Princeton University physicists Ian Affleck and Michael Dine, seeks to explain the matter-antimatter asymmetry of the universe by saying that the fields that governed that early balloon-like inflation of the universe had to be fairly shallow in order for that inflation to take place — in other words, the bowling ball in the center of the trampoline wasn't very heavy. And in the same way a marble rolling around a bowling ball's shallow depression doesn't gain or lose much speed, the field's shape meant that the energy governing the inflation of the universe stayed uniform.

Because inflation requires this uniformity, the field can't interact too strongly with any other fields (essentially other trampolines) in order to create particles. But according to Affleck and Dine's theory, this field interacted with others in a way that created more matter particles than antimatter particles. In order to maintain that uniform shape, the field contained those particles in "lumps."

"These lumps are called Q balls. They're just lumps of field," said lead author Graham White, a physicist at the Kavli Institute for the Physics and Mathematics of the Universe.

As the universe expanded, these Q balls hung around. "And eventually, they become the most important part of the universe in terms of how much energy is in them compared to the rest of the universe."


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But they don't last forever. When the Q balls do disappear — peppering the universe with more matter than antimatter — they do it so suddenly that they produce sound waves. Those sound waves act as a source for the ripples in space-time known as gravitational waves, the new study proposed. If those gravitational waves exist, they can be measured here on Earth by detectors such as NASA's Laser Interferometer Space Array (LISA) and the underground Einstein Telescope, White's team argues.

This isn't the only theory to explain the matter-antimatter asymmetry of the universe. But White said that's okay, since we're at an exciting point where if one of these paradigms is correct, we can probably prove it. "[There are] a whole bunch of machines we're turning on in the 2030s which can hopefully see these gravitational waves," White said. "If we do see them, that's really exciting." But even if detectors fail to find these Q-ball ripples, that's also good news because it means that simpler theories are probably correct — and those are easier to test, he said. "So in some ways it's a bit of a no-lose."

Originally published on Live Science.

Weird quantum objects known as Q balls could explain why we exist (2)

Ashley Hamer

Live Science Contributor

Ashley Hamer is a contributing writer for Live Science who has written about everything from space and quantum physics to health and psychology. She's the host of the podcast Taboo Science and the former host of Curiosity Daily from Discovery. She has also written for the YouTube channels SciShow and It's Okay to Be Smart. With a master's degree in jazz saxophone from the University of North Texas, Ashley has an unconventional background that gives her science writing a unique perspective and an outsider's point of view.

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Weird quantum objects known as Q balls could explain why we exist (2024)


Weird quantum objects known as Q balls could explain why we exist? ›

It has been hypothesised that the early universe had many energy lumps that consisted of Q-balls. When these eventually interacted with each other they ''popped'', i.e., dispersed, creating more matter particles than antimatter particles and explaining why matter predominates in the visible universe.

What is the weirdest thing in quantum physics? ›

Another seemingly peculiar feat of quantum objects is that with some probability they can pass through barriers. This is called tunneling. Throw a tennis ball at a wall and (as long as the wall remains standing) it will bounce back. Do this with an atom, and you might find it on the other side.

Are quantum particles popping into existence? ›

The short answer is: there are no particles popping in and out of existence. This idea comes from some confusions that are (among others) relating to misconceptions about the relationship between the Fock basis and the quadrature bases.

Do humans have quantum particles? ›

Quantum physics deals with subatomic particles, which are the building blocks of all matter. So, in that sense, we already exist in a quantum reality, Kolodrubetz said. And because people are made of quantum particles, they are quantum mechanical beings. Rather than being a place, quantum physics is about size.

What is the weirdness of quantum mechanics? ›

Quantum weirdness encompasses the aspects of quantum mechanics that challenge and defy human physical intuition. Human physical intuition is based on macroscopic physical phenomena as are experienced in everyday life, which can mostly be adequately described by the Newtonian mechanics of classical physics.

Can two realities exist at once? ›

Can two versions of reality exist at the same time? Physicists say they can — at the quantum level, that is. Researchers recently conducted experiments to answer a decades-old theoretical physics question about dueling realities.

What is the most mysterious thing in physics? ›

The 18 biggest unsolved mysteries in physics
  • What is dark energy? ...
  • What is dark matter? ...
  • Why is there an arrow of time? ...
  • Are there parallel universes? ...
  • Why is there more matter than antimatter? ...
  • What is the fate of the universe? ...
  • How do measurements collapse quantum wavefunctions? ...
  • Is string theory correct?
Feb 27, 2017

Does consciousness exist on a quantum level? ›

The quantum mind or quantum consciousness is a group of hypotheses proposing that local physical laws and interactions from classical mechanics or connections between neurons alone cannot explain consciousness, positing instead that quantum-mechanical phenomena, such as entanglement and superposition that cause ...

Can two humans be quantum entangled? ›

This could occur if the two individuals shared a common ancestor, or if they were born at the same time and in the same place. While these are interesting ideas, the current understanding of quantum mechanics suggests that the necessary conditions for human entanglement are highly unlikely to occur.

Can human consciousness connect to the universe? ›

Your Very Own Consciousness Can Interact With the Whole Universe, Scientists Believe. A recent experiment suggests the brain is not too warm or wet for consciousness to exist as a quantum wave that connects with the rest of the universe.

What is forbidden in quantum mechanics? ›

Transitions between energy levels in a quantum-mechanical system that are not allowed to take place because of selection rules. In practice, forbidden transitions can occur, but they do so with much lower probability than allowed transitions.

How is quantum physics related to spirituality? ›

Both quantum physics and spirituality note the inseparable influence of observer and observed. “It is science that masters the objects, but it is the objects that invest it with depth, according to an unconscious reversion, which only gives a dead and circular response to a dead and circular interrogation.”

Why did Einstein disagree with quantum mechanics? ›

He thought it was incomplete. It was saying the wrong things about the true nature of reality. So what was quantum theory saying? The theory states that there is an absolute limit to what we can know about what goes on in nature at the atomic level.

What is the biggest problem in quantum mechanics? ›

Problem of time: In quantum mechanics, time is a classical background parameter, and the flow of time is universal and absolute. In general relativity, time is one component of four-dimensional spacetime, and the flow of time changes depending on the curvature of spacetime and the spacetime trajectory of the observer.

What is the most interesting part of quantum physics? ›

10 mind-boggling things you should know about quantum physics
  1. The quantum world is lumpy. ...
  2. Something can be both wave and particle. ...
  3. Objects can be in two places at once. ...
  4. It may lead us towards a multiverse. ...
  5. It helps us characterize stars. ...
  6. Without it the sun wouldn't shine. ...
  7. It stops dead stars collapsing.
Mar 15, 2022

What is the smallest thing in quantum physics? ›

Quarks are among the smallest particles in the universe, and they carry only fractional electric charges. Scientists have a good idea of how quarks make up hadrons, but the properties of individual quarks have been difficult to tease out because they can't be observed outside of their respective hadrons.

What is the strangest number in physics? ›

The strange number 1/137 shows up everywhere in physics. What does it mean?
  • The fine structure constant, a number that emerges from theories of quantum mechanics, is measured in laboratory experiments to be roughly 1/137.
  • This slightly coincidental number is a perennial source of excitement.
Oct 29, 2022

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