30 March 2005

New Theory On Origin Of Light

by Kate Melville

Physics professor Alan Kostelecky of Indiana University describes light as "a shimmering of ever-present vectors in empty space" and compares it to waves propagating across a field of grain. This description is markedly different from existing theories of light, in which scientists believe space is without direction and the properties of light are a result of an underlying symmetry of nature. In research appearing in the journal Physical Review D, Kostelecky contends that light may be a direct result of small violations of relativity.

The report, co-authored with physics professor Robert Bluhm of Colby College, discusses the possibility that light arises from the breaking of a symmetry of relativity. "Nature's beauty is more subtle than perfect symmetry," said Kostelecky. "The underlying origin of light may be another example of this subtlety." The researchers contend that this description of light is a general feature of relativity violations and holds both in empty space and in the presence of gravity. "In this picture, light has a strange beauty, and its origin is tied into minuscule violations of Einstein's relativity in a profound and general way. This is an alternative, viable way of understanding light with potential experimental implications. That's what makes it exciting," Kostelecky said.

Bluhm and Kostelecky said that this new view of light can be tested experimentally by studying the properties of light and its interactions with matter and gravity. All these have behavior that is predicted to deviate from conventional expectations in small but important ways. Possible detectable effects include asymmetries between properties of certain particles and antiparticles, and cyclic variations in their behavior as Earth rotates. The effects can be observed using various experimental equipment ranging from particle colliders, such as the one at Fermilab, to "tabletop" experiments with atomic clocks. The researchers said that a number of such experiments were now under way.