If you enjoy watching videos or pictures of outer space, you’ve probably noticed that besides stars, planets, and nebulae, space seems empty – as the name implies. However, space is really not as empty as it appears. With the exception of the presence of dark matter and dark energy, virtual particles are also theorized to exist, composing what is thought to be a foundation material of the universe. These virtual particles compose “quantum foam”, which is a similar effect to the bubbles in fizzy drinks that accumulate at the surface to form a foam; virtual particles are the bubbles that amass to form quantum foam.
Virtual particles are different from “normal” particles in that they can appear at any location, but only for a fraction of a second before disappearing again. They also defy the laws of physics by possessing the ability to travel through time, and travelling faster than the speed of light. However, the effects of virtual particles on the universe are negligible – since virtual particles are ephemeral and occur in groups that often display contra-interactions, thus these effects cancel without any alteration of the observable universe. Unlike what we have learnt about conservation of momentum during our Physics tuition classes on Dynamics, many eminent physicists claim that virtual particles do not conserve energy and momentum, contrary to what the uncertainty principle describes, due to the fact that virtual particles do not have the characteristics of actual particles.
The universe, which consists of constantly expanding space, might not be “smooth” as originally believed. In terms of space travel, the universe can be seen as a road – which can be used to reach other destinations (planets, star systems, etc.). Just as roads that are damaged, or un-tarred, are rough, the universe is thought to be rough in nature as well. This is due to the accumulation of virtual particles that form the rough foundation, or quantum foam, of the universe.
Since virtual particles (and quantum foam) cannot be seen, as they are believed to be extremely small, scientists have been using various, yet conventional, methods of observation in attempt to prove the existence of these concepts. Although such techniques of observation have proved unsuccessful in determining proof of the aforementioned concepts, a different experiment (called the “muon g-2 experiment”) was proposed. This experiment shows great potential and researchers are still interpreting and comparing data to prove, with certainty, that quantum foam and virtual particles exist. Additionally, particle physicists theorized that photons, particularly those that have travelled long distances across space, are (collectively) key in proving that the universe is rough and inconsistent. Therefore new models and observation techniques are being developed to study these photons to investigate for further evidence of quantum foam.