Drake thought the finding might help
explain why reconnections happen
faster among magnetic field lines in
the sun than classical magnetic theory
would predict. Drake and colleagues also
argued, in a paper published last year in
the Astrophysical Journal, that similar
reconnections may be happening among
magnetic field lines at the edge of the
Real quantum turbulence, not just
an analog, may even have occurred at
more distant reaches. Kerson Huang, a
physicist at MIT, thinks that quantum
turbulence could explain a lot about
the cosmos. Astronomers studying the
heavens have found that there are gaps
of relatively empty space billions of
light-years across, where few galaxies
are found. But space in general looks
uniform, so why these gaps exist has
remained a mystery.
Huang thinks if the early universe were
like a superfluid punctured by quantum
vortices, these vortices could have created
the gaps. If so, this phenomenon might be
seen in a particle accelerator designed to
imitate the vacuum of the early universe,
such as the Large Hadron Collider outside Geneva. Colliding beams of protons
at the LHC generate exotic particles and
release a lot of energy.
“It’s a fireball that could burn a hole
in the vacuum, so to speak,” Huang says.
Such holes would have been pinpricks
in the early universe, but would have
bloated as the universe expanded, creating the cosmic voids, wrote Huang
and colleagues in a paper posted online
in November at arXiv.org.
However, Huang says, people haven’t
thought deeply enough about how to
detect hints of vortices in collider data:
“We might create it, but we might not
recognize it.” He is now doing calculations to figure out whether vortices
would grow to a size that matches the
size of voids found in the cosmos.
“His ideas are interesting because
they connect quantum theory to vortices to the early universe,” Lathrop says.
If Huang turns out to be right, his work
could help rule out some theories for the
birth of the universe.
All shook up though you won’t spot quantum turbulence in your coffee
mug or kitchen sink, you probably experience some form of classical turbulence
every day. the phenomenon occurs when fluid attempts to flow past an object
or another fluid, bouncing and twisting to create chaotic patterns.
Buckle up rough air in the form of strong
updrafts in storms, downdrafts on the
leeward side of a mountain and shifting
jet stream boundaries can shake unbuck-
led airline passengers from their seats.
though bumps caused by air moving
against air can injure a person onboard,
they rarely damage planes.
Flowing through when doctors bring a
stethoscope to your heart, they are listen-
ing for the lubb-dupp that comes with a
healthy beat. obstructions resulting from
valve malfunctions or clogged arteries
can cause a whooshing or blowing sound
because they interrupt blood’s streamlined
flow to create an audible, turbulent one.
Shine down as the sun’s core burns,
energy is radiated outward. this results
in a constant, turbulent overturning of
hot and cold gases in the sun’s outer layer,
called the convection zone. computer
simulations are helping scientists under-
stand how small-scale turbulence can
result in the large-scale order seen in the
What a drag the flow of air around a mov-
ing car takes on a turbulent quality and
increases drag. though the effect may
not matter much at city speeds, formula 1
race car designers have put a lot of effort
into reducing turbulence in air passing
over their vehicles. at the same time,
organizers want turbulence behind the
car reduced because it makes overtaking
another car more difficult.
Seaside surf as a wave approaches the
beach, the gradual slope of the ocean bot-
tom causes the wave to steepen until its
crest becomes unstable, resulting in white
water. similar disruptions can occur mid-
ocean anytime water’s flow is interrupted
by an obstruction, such as a reef.
For now, his cosmic void idea is specu-
lative. But sometimes speculation turns
out to be true. That was the case with
Feynman’s predictions about quan-
tum vortices. After suggesting that they
would not only pop up, but also recon-
nect to dissipate energy, Feynman wrote
in his 1955 paper: “Having travelled so
far making one unverified conjecture
upon another we may have strayed very
far from the truth.” Surely you were jok-
ing, Mr. Feynman —your predictions
were spot-on. s
Marissa Cevallos is a former science
writer intern at Science News.
s for a video of quantum turbulence:
March 12, 2011 | science news | 23