List of unsolved problems in physics

Some of the major unsolved problems in physics are theoretical, meaning that existing theories seem incapable of explaining a certain observed phenomenon or experimental result. The others are experimental, meaning that there is a difficulty in creating an experiment to test a proposed theory or investigate a phenomenon in greater detail. There are still some deficiencies in the Standard Model of physics, such as the origin of mass, the strong CP problem, neutrino oscillations, matter–antimatter asymmetry, and the nature of dark matter and dark energy.[1] Another problem lies within the mathematical framework of the Standard Model itself—the Standard Model is inconsistent with that of general relativity, to the point that one or both theories break down under certain conditions (for example within known spacetime singularities like the Big Bang and the centers of black holes beyond the event horizon). Unsolved problems by subfield Edit The following is a list of unsolved problems grouped into broad area of physics.[2] General physics/quantum physics Edit Arrow of time (e.g. entropy’s arrow of time) Why does time have a direction? Why did the universe have such low entropy in the past, and time correlates with the universal (but not local) increase in entropy, from the past and to the future, according to the second law of thermodynamics?[3] Why are CP violations observed in certain weak force decays, but not elsewhere? Are CP violations somehow a product of the Second Law of Thermodynamics, or are they a separate arrow of time? Are there exceptions to the principle of causality? Is there a single possible past? Is the present moment physically distinct from the past and future, or is it merely an emergent property of consciousness? What links the quantum arrow of time to the thermodynamic arrow? Interpretation of quantum mechanics How does the quantum description of reality, which includes elements such as the superposition of states and wavefunction collapse or quantum decoherence, give rise to the reality we perceive? Another way of stating this question regards the measurement problem: What constitutes a “measurement” which apparently causes the wave function to collapse into a definite state? Unlike classical physical processes, some quantum mechanical processes (such as quantum teleportation arising from quantum entanglement) cannot be simultaneously “local”, “causal”, and “real”, but it is not obvious which of these properties must be sacrificed, or if an attempt to describe quantum mechanical processes in these senses is a category error such that a proper understanding of quantum mechanics would render the question meaningless. Grand Unification Theory/Theory of everything Is there a theory which explains the values of all fundamental physical constants?[3] Is there a theory which explains why the gauge groups of the standard model are as they are, and why observed spacetime has 3 spatial dimensions and 1 temporal dimension? Do “fundamental physical constants” vary over time? Are any of the fundamental particles in the standard model of particle physics actually composite particles too tightly bound to observe as such at current experimental energies? Are there fundamental particles that have not yet been observed, and, if so, which ones are they and what are their properties? Are there unobserved fundamental forces? Yang–Mills theory Given an arbitrary compact gauge group, does a non-trivial quantum Yang–Mills theory with a finite mass gap exist? This problem is also listed as one of the Millennium Prize Problems in mathematics. Physical information Are there physical phenomena, such as wave function collapse or black holes, which irrevocably destroy information about their prior states? How is quantum information stored as a state of a quantum system? Dimensionless physical constant At the present time, the values of the dimensionless physical constants cannot be calculated; they are determined only by physical measurement.[4][5] What is the minimum number of dimensionless physical constants from which all other dimensionless physical constants can be derived? Are dimensional physical constants necessary at all? Fine-tuned Universe The values of the fundamental physical constants are in a narrow range necessary to support carbon-based life.[6][7][8] Is this because there exist other universes with different constants, or are our universe’s constants the result of chance, or some other factor or process? Cosmology and general relativity Edit Problem of time How can time be reconciled with general relativity? Cosmic inflation Is the theory of cosmic inflation correct, and, if so, what are the details of this epoch? What is the hypothetical inflaton field giving rise to inflation? If inflation happened at one point, is it self-sustaining through inflation of quantum-mechanical fluctuations, and thus ongoing in some extremely distant place?[9] Horizon problem Why is the distant universe so homogeneous when the Big Bang theory seems to predict larger measurable anisotropies of the night sky than those observed? Cosmological inflation is generally accepted as the solution, but are other possible explanations such as a variable speed of light more appropriate?[10] Origin and future of the universe How did the conditions for anything to exist arise? Is the universe heading towards a Big Freeze, a Big Rip, a Big Crunch, or a Big Bounce? Or is it part of an infinitely recurring cyclic model? Size of universe The diameter of the observable universe is about 93 billion light-years, but what is the size of the whole universe? Does a multiverse exist? Baryon asymmetry Why is there far more matter than antimatter in the observable universe? Cosmological constant problem Why does the zero-point energy of the vacuum not cause a large cosmological constant? What cancels it out?[11] Estimated distribution of dark matter and dark energy in the universe Dark matter/Galaxy rotation curve What is the identity of dark matter?[10] Is it a particle? Is it the lightest superpartner (LSP)? [Or] Do the phenomena attributed to dark matter point not to some form of matter but actually to an extension of gravity? Dark energy What is the cause of the observed accelerated expansion (de Sitter phase) of the universe? Why is the energy density of the dark energy component of the same magnitude as the density of matter at present when the two evolve quite differently over time; could it be simply that we are observing at exactly the right time? Is dark energy a pure cosmological constant or are models of quintessence such as phantom energy applicable? Dark flow Is a non-spherically symmetric gravitational pull from outside the observable universe responsible for some of the observed motion of large objects such as galactic clusters in the universe? Axis of evil (cosmology) Some large features of the microwave sky at distances of over 13 billion light years appear to be aligned with both the motion and orientation of the solar system. Is this due to systematic errors in processing, contamination of results by local effects, or an unexplained violation of the Copernican principle? Shape of the universe What is the 3-manifold of comoving space, i.e. of a comoving spatial section of the universe, informally called the “shape” of the universe? Neither the curvature nor the topology is presently known, though the curvature is known to be “close” to zero on observable scales. The cosmic inflation hypothesis suggests that the shape of the universe may be unmeasurable, but, since 2003, Jean-Pierre Luminet, et al., and other groups have suggested that the shape of the universe may be the Poincaré dodecahedral space. Is the shape unmeasurable; the Poincaré space; or another 3-manifold? Quantum gravity Edit Vacuum catastrophe Why does the predicted mass of the quantum vacuum have little effect on the expansion of the universe? Quantum gravity Can quantum mechanics and general relativity be realized as a fully consistent theory (perhaps as a quantum field theory)?[12] Is spacetime fundamentally continuous or discrete? Would a consistent theory involve a force mediated by a hypothetical graviton, or be a product of a discrete structure of spacetime itself (as in loop quantum gravity)? Are there deviations from the predictions of general relativity at very small or very large scales or in other extreme circumstances that flow from a quantum gravity theory? Black holes, black hole information paradox, and black hole radiation Do black holes produce thermal radiation, as expected on theoretical grounds? Does this radiation contain information about their inner structure, as suggested by gauge–gravity duality, or not, as implied by Hawking’s original calculation? If not, and black holes can evaporate away, what happens to the information stored in them (since quantum mechanics does not provide for the destruction of information)? Or does the radiation stop at some point leaving black hole remnants? Is there another way to probe their internal structure somehow, if such a structure even exists? Extra dimensions Does nature have more than four spacetime dimensions? If so, what is their size? Are dimensions a fundamental property of the universe or an emergent result of other physical laws? Can we experimentally observe evidence of higher spatial dimensions? The cosmic censorship hypothesis and the chronology protection conjecture Can singularities not hidden behind an event horizon, known as “naked singularities”, arise from realistic initial conditions, or is it possible to prove some version of the “cosmic censorship hypothesis” of Roger Penrose which proposes that this is impossible?[13] Similarly, will the closed timelike curves which arise in some solutions to the equations of general relativity (and which imply the possibility of backwards time travel) be ruled out by a theory of quantum gravity which unites general relativity with quantum mechanics, as suggested by the “chronology protection conjecture” of Stephen Hawking? Locality Are there non-local phenomena in quantum physics? If they exist, are non-local phenomena limited to the entanglement revealed in the violations of the Bell inequalities, or can information and conserved quantities also move in a non-local way? Under what circumstances are non-local phenomena observed? What does the existence or absence of non-local phenomena imply about the fundamental structure of spacetime? How does this relate to quantum entanglement? How does this elucidate the proper interpretation of the fundamental nature of quantum physics? High-energy physics/particle physics Edit See also: Beyond the Standard Model Higgs mechanism Are the branching ratios of the Higgs boson decays consistent with the standard model? Is there only one type of Higgs boson? Hierarchy problem Why is gravity such a weak force? It becomes strong for particles only at the Planck scale, around 1019 GeV, much above the electroweak scale (100 GeV, the energy scale dominating physics at low energies). Why are these scales so different from each other? What prevents quantities at the electroweak scale, such as the Higgs boson mass, from getting quantum corrections on the order of the Planck scale? Is the solution supersymmetry, extra dimensions, or just anthropic fine-tuning? Planck particle The Planck mass plays an important role in parts of mathematical physics. A series of researchers have suggested the existence of a fundamental particle with mass equal to or close to that of the Planck mass. The Planck mass is however enormous compared to any detected particle even compared to the Higgs particle. While working at the Rutherford Laboratory, Lloyd Motz suggested that such a particle with Planck mass likely had existed but that most of its mass had radiated away. Others have suggested particles with close to the Planck mass are micro black holes. It is still an unsolved problem if there exist or even have existed a particle with close to the Planck mass. This is indirectly related to the hierarchy problem. Magnetic monopoles Did particles that carry “magnetic charge” exist in some past, higher-energy epoch? If so, do any remain today? (Paul Dirac showed the existence of some types of magnetic monopoles would explain charge quantization.)[14] Proton decay and spin crisis Is the proton fundamentally stable? Or does it decay with a finite lifetime as predicted by some extensions to the standard model?[15] How do the quarks and gluons carry the spin of protons?[16] Supersymmetry Is spacetime supersymmetry realized at TeV scale? If so, what is the mechanism of supersymmetry breaking? Does supersymmetry stabilize the electroweak scale, preventing high quantum corrections? Does the lightest supersymmetric particle (LSP or Lightest Supersymmetric Particle) comprise dark matter? Generations of matter Why are there three generations of quarks and leptons? Is there a theory that can explain the masses of particular quarks and leptons in particular generations from first principles (a theory of Yukawa couplings)?[17] Neutrino mass What is the mass of neutrinos, whether they follow Dirac or Majorana statistics? Is mass hierarchy normal or inverted? Is the CP violating phase 0?[18][19][20] Colour confinement Why has there never been measured a free quark or gluon, but only objects that are built out of them, such as mesons and baryons? How does this phenomenon emerge from QCD? Strong CP problem and axions Why is the strong nuclear interaction invariant to parity and charge conjugation? Is Peccei–Quinn theory the solution to this problem? Could axions be the main component of dark matter? Anomalous magnetic dipole moment Why is the experimentally measured value of the muon’s anomalous magnetic dipole moment (“muon g−2”) significantly different from the theoretically predicted value of that physical constant?[21] Proton radius puzzle What is the electric charge radius of the proton? How does it differ from gluonic charge? Pentaquarks and other exotic hadrons What combinations of quarks are possible? Why were pentaquarks so difficult to discover?[22] Are they a tightly-bound system of five elementary particles, or a more weakly-bound pairing of a baryon and a meson?[23] Astronomy and astrophysics Edit Relativistic jet. The environment around the AGN where the relativistic plasma is collimated into jets which escape along the pole of the supermassive black hole Astrophysical jet Why do the accretion discs surrounding certain astronomical objects, such as the nuclei of active galaxies, emit relativistic jets along their polar axes?[24] Why are there quasi-periodic oscillations in many accretion discs?[25] Why does the period of these oscillations scale as the inverse of the mass of the central object?[26] Why are there sometimes overtones, and why do these appear at different frequency ratios in different objects?[27] Solar cycle How does the Sun generate its periodically reversing large-scale magnetic field? How do other solar-like stars generate their magnetic fields, and what are the similarities and differences between stellar activity cycles and that of the Sun?[28] What caused the Maunder Minimum and other grand minima, and how does the solar cycle recover from a minima state? Coronal heating problem Why is the Sun’s corona (atmosphere layer) so much hotter than the Sun’s surface? Why is the magnetic reconnection effect many orders of magnitude faster than predicted by standard models? Diffuse interstellar bands What is responsible for the numerous interstellar absorption lines detected in astronomical spectra? Are they molecular in origin, and if so which molecules are responsible for them? How do they form? Supermassive black holes What is the origin of the M-sigma relation between supermassive black hole mass and galaxy velocity dispersion?[29] How did the most distant quasars grow their supermassive black holes up to 1010 solar masses so early in the history of the universe? Rotation curve of a typical spiral galaxy: predicted (A) and observed (B). Can the discrepancy between the curves be attributed to dark matter? Kuiper cliff Why does the number of objects in the Solar System’s Kuiper belt fall off rapidly and unexpectedly beyond a radius of 50 astronomical units? Flyby anomaly Why is the observed energy of satellites flying by Earth sometimes different by a minute amount from the value predicted by theory? Galaxy rotation problem Is dark matter responsible for differences in observed and theoretical speed of stars revolving around the centre of galaxies, or is it something else? Supernovae What is the exact mechanism by which an implosion of a dying star becomes an explosion? p-nuclei What astrophysical process is responsible for the nucleogenesis of these rare isotopes? Ultra-high-energy cosmic ray [10] Why is it that some cosmic rays appear to possess energies that are impossibly high, given that there are no sufficiently energetic cosmic ray sources near the Earth? Why is it that (apparently) some cosmic rays emitted by distant sources have energies above the Greisen–Zatsepin–Kuzmin limit?[3][10] Rotation rate of Saturn Why does the magnetosphere of Saturn exhibit a (slowly changing) periodicity close to that at which the planet’s clouds rotate? What is the true rotation rate of Saturn’s deep interior?[30] Origin of magnetar magnetic field What is the origin of magnetar magnetic field? Large-scale anisotropy Is the universe at very large scales anisotropic, making the cosmological principle an invalid assumption? The number count and intensity dipole anisotropy in radio, NRAO VLA Sky Survey (NVSS) catalogue[31] is inconsistent with the local motion as derived from cosmic microwave background[32][33] and indicate an intrinsic dipole anisotropy. The same NVSS radio data also shows an intrinsic dipole in polarization density and degree of polarization[34] in the same direction as in number count and intensity. There are other several observation revealing large-scale anisotropy. The optical polarization from quasars shows polarization alignment over a very large scale of Gpc.[35][36][37] The cosmic-microwave-background data shows several features of anisotropy,[38][39][40][41] which are not consistent with the Big Bang model. Space roar Why is space roar six times louder than expected? What is the source of space roar? Age–metallicity relation in the Galactic disk Is there a universal age–metallicity relation (AMR) in the Galactic disk (both “thin” and “thick” parts of the disk)? Although in the local (primarily thin) disk of the Milky Way there is no evidence of a strong AMR,[42] a sample of 229 nearby “thick” disk stars has been used to investigate the existence of an age–metallicity relation in the Galactic thick disk, and indicate that there is an age–metallicity relation present in the thick disk.[43][44] Stellar ages from asteroseismology confirm the lack of any strong age-metallicity relation in the Galactic disc.[45] The lithium problem Why is there a discrepancy between the amount of lithium-7 predicted to be produced in Big Bang nucleosynthesis and the amount observed in very old stars?[46] Solar wind interaction with comets In 2007 the Ulysses spacecraft passed through the tail of comet C/2006 P1 (McNaught) and found surprising results concerning the interaction of the solar wind with the tail. Ultraluminous pulsar The ultraluminous X-ray source M82 X-2 was thought to be a black hole, but in October 2014 data from NASA’s space-based X-ray telescope NuStar indicated that M82 X-2 is a pulsar many times brighter than the Eddington limit. The injection problem Fermi acceleration is thought to be the primary mechanism that accelerates astrophysical particles to high energy. However, it is unclear what mechanism causes those particles to initially have energies high enough for Fermi acceleration to work on them.[47] Fast radio bursts Transient radio pulses lasting only a few milliseconds, from emission regions thought to be no larger than a few hundred kilometres, and estimated to occur several hundred times a day. While several theories have been proposed, there is no generally accepted explanation for them. They may come from cosmological distances, but there is no consensus on this, either.[citation needed] Nature of KIC 8462852 What is the origin of unusual luminosity changes of this star? Fermi paradox Do extraterrestrial civilizations exist? If so, why do we not see them? Nature of Wow! signal Was that a real signal and, if so, what is the origin of it?[48] Planetary systems How does accretion form planetary systems?[49] Where did Earth’s water come from?[49] Nuclear physics Edit The “island of stability” in the proton vs. neutron number plot for heavy nuclei Quantum chromodynamics What are the phases of strongly interacting matter, and what roles do they play in the evolution of cosmos? What is the detailed partonic structure of the nucleons? What does QCD predict for the properties of strongly interacting matter? What determines the key features of QCD, and what is their relation to the nature of gravity and spacetime? Do glueballs exist? Do gluons acquire mass dynamically despite having a zero rest mass, within hadrons? Does QCD truly lack CP-violations? Do gluons saturate[disambiguation needed] when their occupation number is large? Do gluons form a dense system called Colour Glass Condensate? What are the signatures and evidences for the Balitsky-Fadin-Kuarev-Lipatov, Balitsky-Kovchegov, Catani-Ciafaloni-Fiorani-Marchesini evolution equations? Nuclei and nuclear astrophysics What is the nature of the nuclear force that binds protons and neutrons into stable nuclei and rare isotopes? What is the nature of exotic excitations in nuclei at the frontiers of stability and their role in stellar processes? What is the nature of neutron stars and dense nuclear matter? What is the origin of the elements in the cosmos? What are the nuclear reactions that drive stars and stellar explosions? Atomic, molecular and optical physics Edit Abraham–Minkowski controversy What is the momentum of light in optical media? Bose–Einstein condensation How do we rigorously prove the existence of Bose–Einstein condensates for general interacting systems?[50] Condensed matter physics Edit A sample of a cuprate superconductor (specifically BSCCO). The mechanism for superconductivity of these materials is unknown. High-temperature superconductors What is the mechanism that causes certain materials to exhibit superconductivity at temperatures much higher than around 25 kelvin? Is it possible to make a material that is a superconductor at room temperature?[3] Amorphous solids What is the nature of the glass transition between a fluid or regular solid and a glassy phase? What are the physical processes giving rise to the general properties of glasses and the glass transition?[51][52] Cryogenic electron emission Why does the electron emission in the absence of light increase as the temperature of a photomultiplier is decreased?[53][54] Sonoluminescence What causes the emission of short bursts of light from imploding bubbles in a liquid when excited by sound?[55][56] Turbulence Is it possible to make a theoretical model to describe the statistics of a turbulent flow (in particular, its internal structures)?[3] Also, under what conditions do smooth solutions to the Navier–Stokes equations exist? This problem is also listed as one of the Millennium Prize Problems in mathematics. Alfvénic turbulence In the solar wind and the turbulence in solar flares, coronal mass ejections, and magnetospheric substorms are major unsolved problems in space plasma physics.[57] Topological order Is topological order stable at non-zero temperature? Equivalently, is it possible to have three-dimensional self-correcting quantum memory?[58] Fractional Hall effect What mechanism explains the existence of the {\displaystyle u=5/2} {\displaystyle u=5/2} state in the fractional quantum Hall effect? Does it describe quasiparticles with non-Abelian fractional statistics?[citation needed] Magnetoresistance in a {\displaystyle u=8/5} {\displaystyle u=8/5} fractional quantum Hall state. Liquid crystals Can the nematic to smectic (A) phase transition in liquid crystal states be characterized as a universal phase transition?[59][60] Semiconductor nanocrystals What is the cause of the nonparabolicity of the energy-size dependence for the lowest optical absorption transition of quantum dots?[61] Whisker (metallurgy) In electrical devices, some metallic surfaces may spontaneously grow fine metallic whiskers, which can lead to equipment failures. While compressive mechanical stress is known to encourage whisker formation, the growth mechanism has yet to be determined. Plasma physics Edit Plasma physics and fusion power Fusion energy may potentially provide power from abundant resource (e.g. hydrogen) without the type of radioactive waste that fission energy currently produces. However, can ionized gases (plasma) be confined long enough and at a high enough temperature to create fusion power? What is the physical origin of H-mode?[62] Biophysics Edit Stochasticity and robustness to noise in gene expression How do genes govern our body, withstanding different external pressures and internal stochasticity? Certain models exist for genetic processes, but we are far from understanding the whole picture, in particular in development where gene expression must be tightly regulated. Quantitative study of the immune system What are the quantitative properties of immune responses? What are the basic building blocks of immune system networks? Unified brain processing theory How to unify physics and neuroscience?[63] Homochirality What is the origin of the preponderance of specific enantiomers in biochemical systems?

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