Quantum gravity

Description of gravity using discrete values / From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

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Quantum gravity (QG) is a field of theoretical physics that seeks to describe gravity according to the principles of quantum mechanics. It deals with environments in which neither gravitational nor quantum effects can be ignored,[1] such as in the vicinity of black holes or similar compact astrophysical objects, such as neutron stars.[2][3]

Three of the four fundamental forces of physics are described within the framework of quantum mechanics and quantum field theory. The current understanding of the fourth force, gravity, is based on Albert Einstein's general theory of relativity, which is formulated within the entirely different framework of classical physics. However, that description is incomplete: describing the gravitational field of a black hole in the general theory of relativity leads physical quantities, such as the spacetime curvature, to diverge at the center of the black hole.

This signals the breakdown of the general theory of relativity and the need for a theory that goes beyond general relativity into the quantum realm. At distances very close to the center of the black hole (closer to the Planck length), quantum fluctuations of spacetime are expected to play an important role.[4] To describe these quantum effects a theory of quantum gravity is needed. Such a theory should allow the description to be extended closer to the center and might even allow an understanding of physics at the center of a black hole. On more formal grounds, one can argue that a classical system cannot consistently be coupled to a quantum one.[5][6]:11–12

The field of quantum gravity is actively developing, and theorists are exploring a variety of approaches to the problem of quantum gravity, the most popular being M-theory and loop quantum gravity.[7] All of these approaches aim to describe the quantum behavior of the gravitational field. This does not necessarily include unifying all fundamental interactions into a single mathematical framework. However, many approaches to quantum gravity, such as string theory, try to develop a framework that describes all fundamental forces. Such a theory is often referred to as a theory of everything. Others, such as loop quantum gravity, make no such attempt; instead, they make an effort to quantize the gravitational field while it is kept separate from the other forces.

One of the difficulties of formulating a quantum gravity theory is that direct observation of quantum gravitational effects is thought to only appear at length scales near the Planck scale, around 10−35 meters, a scale far smaller, and hence only accessible with far higher energies, than those currently available in high energy particle accelerators. Therefore, physicists lack experimental data which could distinguish between the competing theories which have been proposed.[n.b. 1][n.b. 2]

Thought experiment approaches have been suggested as a testing tool for quantum gravity theories.[8][9] In the field of quantum gravity there are several open questions - e.g., it is not known how spin of elementary particles sources gravity, and thought experiments could provide a pathway to explore possible resolutions to these questions,[10] even in the absence of lab experiments or physical observations.

In the early 21st century, new experiment designs and technologies have arisen which suggest that indirect approaches to testing quantum gravity may be feasible over the next few decades.[11][12][13][14] This field of study is called phenomenological quantum gravity.