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Why is it customary to assume that the vacuum energy contribution is neglible?

  1. Oct 1, 2009 #1
    This is a question from a non-physicist. Since there is much more observed gravity then accounted for by normal matter, why do renormalization methods remove all of the vacuum's energy? I get that the infinite values make no sense, but why assume it's zero?
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  3. Oct 1, 2009 #2

    George Jones

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    It might be (or might not be) that vacuum energy is the dark energy that drives the accelerating expansion of the universe. This would put (observationally) the vacuum energy at about 10^(-9) J m^(-3), but nobody knows how to get this number from theory.
  4. Oct 1, 2009 #3
    past calculations have shown vacuum energy expected to be about 10^120 greater than this figure. Even correcting for supersymmetry the result is still 10^60 too big.
    this is the worst result in magnitude for any theory vs observation in physics.

    In past years Robt Forward and Feinman both stated that the vaccum energy in a coffee cup could boil the seas. They must have been working from the calculated figure.
  5. Oct 1, 2009 #4
    When you say "greater then this figure" what figure are you referring to?
  6. Oct 1, 2009 #5
    The figure given by george Jones in the previous post for the observable vacuum energy.
  7. Oct 1, 2009 #6
    Huh. But I still don't understand why it's more likely to be zero?
  8. Oct 2, 2009 #7


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    The basic idea is that physicists don't like small numbers. The argument goes like so: if you have some theory that allows a continuum range of values for the cosmological constant, then it's going to be extraordinarily unlikely that the particular value it chooses will be either close to zero or to some other specific number. Physicists generally expect that it's going to be vastly more likely for it to be forced to be identically zero due to some symmetry or other. However, no such symmetry has been found.

    In any case what it means is that the number we see for the cosmological constant is thought unlikely to be an accident, and must take the value it does for a particular reason.
  9. Oct 2, 2009 #8
    "Huh. But I still don't understand why it's more likely to be zero?"

    me either. It's not zero, and that shows in many different ways.
    But is the dark energy, vacuum energy, casimir energy, driving the expansion ? If not, what is ?
    here's a thought
    When Einstein added a cosmological constant to his equation G(uv) = 8*Pi*GT(uv) he added it on the left-hand side to make the cosmos static. G(uv) + Ag(uv) = 8*Pi*GT(uv) because he thought it was a property of space.
    If we accept that the vacuum contains energy the term should be on the right, as follows: G(uv) = 8*Pi*G(T(uv) + P(vac)g(uv)).
  10. Oct 3, 2009 #9
    So general relativity predicts an expanding universe, but the rate of this expansion is accelerating, which is not predicted by GR?
  11. Oct 4, 2009 #10


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    GR only predicts how the rate of expansion (or contraction) is related to the contents of the universe. It neither predicts nor forbids accelerated expansion.
  12. Oct 4, 2009 #11
    Ok. I know I am out of my league here, but i was always a bit confused by the way our understanding of gravity is presented. I had read that it was "mysterius" why gravity as a force was so weak and that one of the appeals of string theory was that it could explain this by having some of the gravity "leak" into other dimensions, yet on the other hand we have this mystery where there is much more gravity then known matter seems to account for. (I know these two things are not related, it just seems weird on a surface level.)
  13. Oct 4, 2009 #12
    You don't use just matter to account for gravitation. Any energy produces gravitation. In General Relativity it's the energy tensor. So you add the effect of mass-equivalent energy, heat, momentum, electromagnetic radiation, dark energy(whatever that is) and any other energy I haven't mentioned, to come up with a total.
    Note that other dimensions are speculative, we don't have an experiment to show them.
  14. Oct 4, 2009 #13


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    Well, energy is a property of matter. It isn't something that exists in and of itself. And it's not just energy, but also pressure, momentum, and anisotropic shears that affect gravitation.
  15. Oct 10, 2009 #14
    I suspect when the reason for gravity is known you won't need such elaborate explanations "as leaking from one dimension to another"...the value of G is in the magnitude of c^2/R which is an estimate quoted by L Smolin (The Trouble with Physics) of the present rate of cosmic acceleration.
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