As of now, we understand our physical universe to be governed by four invisible forces of nature. But now physicists believe there may be a fifth force, and they are probing the center of our galaxy to find it.
Stuck swirling around in the Milky Way on a little globe of rock is insufficient to the wonder and vast expanse of our known universe. Scientists are continuing to unravel the secrets of science to further our knowledge of the mysteries of our existence. Some physicists have recently noted that here are hints of a fifth force of nature, and if it exists, we’d not only be able to fill the remaining holes in Einstein’s general relativity, we’d have to rethink our understanding of how the universe actually works. And now physicists have figured out how to put this mysterious force to the ultimate test.
Our current understanding of the universe states that it’s governed by four fundamental forces: gravity, electromagnetic, and the strong and weak nuclear forces. Physicists have pointed the finger at the force of gravity as being the issue, and with good reason.
At the smallest end of the scale are the two nuclear forces. The strong nuclear force is what holds atomic nuclei in place, and the weak nuclear force enables certain atoms to undergo radioactive decay. Gravity and the electromagnetic force are on the larger end of the scale. The electromagnetic force is needed to keep our molecules together, while gravity is responsible for ensuring that entire galaxies and planets aren’t ripped apart.
It’s all very neat and sensible, but there’s just one problem. And it’s gravity. Gravity is the last of the four fundamental forces and the only one that humans haven’t figured out how to produce and control. It also doesn’t appear to explain everything that it should. Studies have shown that there’s more gravity in our universe than can be produced by all the visible matter out there. The theory of “dark matter” was a decent placeholder, yet even with our most advanced technology, scientists are unable to find any evidence that dark matter exists.
“Einstein’s theory describes [gravity] beautifully well, but there’s lots of evidence showing the theory has holes,” says Andrea Ghez, director of the University of California, Los Angeles Galactic Centre Group. “The mere existence of supermassive black holes tells us that our current theories of how the Universe works are inadequate to explain what a black hole is.” So physicists have been entertaining the hypothesis of a fifth force, rather than tossing out gravity completely, and Ghez and her team think they know where to find it if it exists.
They plan to look at the center of our galaxy because there, the influence of gravity is so strong, that the signs of something extra will be easier to detect. By analyzing extremely sharp images of the heart of the Milky Way taken by the Keck Observatory in Hawaii, the researchers can track the orbits of stars near our galaxy’s supermassive black hole. Based on these paths, they can measure the direct influence of gravity on the stars’ movements, and figure out if something else is at play.
“If confirmed by further experiments, this discovery of a possible fifth force would completely change our understanding of the universe, with consequences for the unification of forces and dark matter,” lead researcher Jonathan Feng from the University of California, Irvine, said.
Although scientists are still a long way from figuring out if this force actually exists, this new technique will be the first time scientists have ever looked for it in a gravitational field as strong as the one created by a supermassive black hole. The discoveries could revolutionize the way we think about our universe.
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Contributed by Dawn Luger of The Daily Sheeple.