When it comes to physics and high school science, gravity is one of the least-questioned principles. It’s a given. And according to a renowned Dutch physicist, it just might not be quite right, either.
Let’s back up for a minute, though: String theory expert Erik Verlinde of the University of Amsterdam and the Delta Institute for Theoretical Physics isn’t say gravity doesn’t exist. He’s not even questioning how gravity works on earth. Instead, he’s looking much, much bigger: At the physics of the universe.
And, if his theory bears out, we might all have to completely revisit our ideas of how dark matter and dark energy work, and the roles they play in our universe’s physics.
Verlinde’s theory, though, may help address some troubling questions.
For instance, most modern physicists haven’t been able to explain the speed at which the outermost regions of galaxies rotate. In fact, the outermost systems of many galaxies rotate much faster than the models currently built—based on mass and energy of stars, planets, and other matter—say they should. Thus far, most physicists seemingly shrug their shoulders and say, “dark matter?”
Verlinde, though, has a different explanation. Instead, he says universal gravity is an “emergent phenomenon” rather than a fundamental force. As a result, when fundamental bits of information about the universe change, gravity results, as the theory goes.
“We have evidence that this new view of gravity actually agrees with the observations,”says Verlinde in a Delta ITP press release.
And it seems his model provides more accurate predictions for the velocities of stars on the outer edge of the galaxy—predictions which, it should be noted, didn’t need to factor in dark matter. As Futurism reports, “By including an adaptation of the holographic principle within his theory, Verlinde is also able to account for dark energy, the unseen force causing the universe to expand.”
Verlinde’s theory arose from the realization that while Einstein’s theory of general relativity works well for most behaviors in our universe, it doesn’t hold up very well at the margins, in extreme conditions—such as near a black hole, during the Big Bang, or even, for that matter, in quantum mechanics. As a result, he says, physicists need to reexamine our base assumptions about gravity.
“Many theoretical physicists like me are working on a revision of the theory, and some major advancements have been made,” says Verlinde. “We might be standing on the brink of a new scientific revolution that will radically change our views on the very nature of space, time and gravity.”
Right now, his theory is just a theory, and quite a few prominent physicists have noted the theory’s limitations, which are plentiful. That caveat aside, however, it is a tremendous step toward reconciling both relativity and quantum mechanics, and as such, shows great promise.
As we learn more, we’ll be sure to pass that on!