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Quantum mechanics also rules astronomical processes

New research has discovered that quantum mechanics, which describes the world of the infinitely small, also serves to unveil the long-term evolution of the massive astrophysical objects that populate the Universe: they are governed by the same Schrödinger equation that rules the world of the elementary particles.

Quantum mechanics is the branch of physics that governs the sometimes weird behavior of the elementary particles that make up our universe. The elementary particles are those that are not made up of smaller particles, nor are they known to have internal structure. Your world is the one that describes quantum mechanics. The equations that describe the world of elementary particles are generally limited to the subatomic realm because relevant mathematics at very small scales are not relevant at larger scales, and vice versa.

However, new research suggests that the Schrödinger equation – the fundamental equation of quantum mechanics – is remarkably useful in describing the long-term evolution of certain astronomical structures. The results are published in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society. Massive astronomical objects are often surrounded by groups of smaller objects that revolve around them, like planets around the sun. For example, supermassive black holes are in orbit around swarms of stars, which in turn are orbited by huge amounts of rocks, ice and other space debris.

Due to gravitational forces, these huge volumes of material become flat and round discs. These disks, formed by innumerable individual particles that orbit in mass, can have a mass that varies from the size of the solar system, to a diameter of many light years (a light year is the distance that the light travels in the vacuum in the span of one year).

Astrophysical discs generally do not retain simple circular shapes throughout their lives. Instead, over millions of years, these discs evolve slowly to exhibit distortions on a large scale, bending and bending like waves in a pond.

However, science does not know very well how these deformations emerge and spread. Even computer simulations have not offered a definitive answer, since the process is as complex as it is prohibitively expensive, to be able to model it.

The solution has come from a well-known scientist, Konstantin Batyguine,has resorted to the so-called Perturbational Theory, typical of quantum mechanics, to formulate a simple mathematical representation of the evolution of astrophysical discs. The idea is brilliant, because that theory describes complicated quantum systems in terms of other, simpler systems.Batygin’s work suggests that the large-scale deformations that occur in astrophysical discs behave similarly to elementary particles, and that their propagation within the cosmic material of the astrophysical disc can be described by the same mathematics used to describe the behavior of a single quantum particle bouncing between the inner and outer edges of the astronomical disk.

Schrödinger evolution of self-gravitating discs. Konstantin Batygin. Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, Volume 475, Issue 4, 21 April 2018, Pages 5070–5084. DOI:https://doi.org/10.1093/mnras/sty162

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