Quantum Mechanics and General Relativity Come Together: Astrophysicists Observe Long-Theorized Quantum Phenomena

Planetary Nebula NGC 2440

Planetary nebula NGC 2440’s central star, HD62166, is possibly the hottest known white dwarf star discovered yet. White dwarfs exhibit puzzling quantum phenomena: As they gain mass, they shrink in size. Credit: NASA/JPL/STScI/AURA

A team led by students probes the mass-radius relation of white dwarf stars, observing in their data evidence of quantum mechanics and Einstein’s theory of general relativity.

At the heart of every white dwarf star—the dense stellar object that remains after a star has burned away its fuel reserve of gases as it nears the end of its life cycle—lies a quantum conundrum: as white dwarfs add mass, they shrink in size, until they become so small and tightly compacted that they cannot sustain themselves, collapsing into a neutron star.

This puzzling relationship between a white dwarf’s mass and size, called the mass-radius relation, was first theorized by Nobel Prize-winning astrophysicist Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar in the 1930s. Now, a team of Johns Hopkins astrophysicists has developed a method to observe the phenomenon itself using astronomical data collected by the Sloan Digital Sky Survey and a recent dataset released by the Gaia Space Observatory. The combined datasets provided more than 3,000 white dwarfs for the team to study.

A report of their findings, led by Hopkins senior Vedant Chandra, is now published in The Astrophysical Journal.

“The mass-radius relation is a spectacular combination of quantum mechanics and gravity, but it’s counterintuitive for us—we think that as an object gains mass, it should get bigger,” says Nadia Zakamska, an associate professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy who supervised the student researchers. “The theory has existed for a long time, but what’s notable is that the dataset we used is of unprecedented size and unprecedented accuracy. These measurement methods, which in some cases were developed years ago, all of a sudden work so much better and these old theories can finally be probed.”

“The way I extolled it to my granddad is, you’re basically seeing quantum mechanics and Einstein’s theory of general relativity coming together to produce this result. He was very excited when I put it that way.” — Vedant Chandra, Johns Hopkins undergraduate student

The team obtained their results using a combination of measurements, including primarily the gravitational redshift effect, which is the change of wavelengths of light from blue to red as light moves away from an object. It is a direct result of Einstein’s theory of general relativity.

“To me, the beauty of this work is that we all learn these theories about how light will be affected by gravity in school and in textbooks, but now we actually see that relationship in the stars themselves,” says fifth-year graduate student Hsiang-Chih Hwang, who proposed the study and first recognized the gravitational redshift effect in the data.

The team also had to account for how a star’s movement through space might affect the perception of its gravitational redshift. Similar to how a fire engine siren changes pitch according to its movement in relation to the person listening, light frequencies also change depending on movement of the light-emitting object in relation to the observer. This is called the Doppler effect, and is essentially a distracting “noise” that complicates the measurement of the gravitational redshift effect, says study contributor Sihao Cheng, a fourth-year graduate student.

To account for the variations caused by the Doppler effect, the team classified white dwarfs in their sample set by radius. They then averaged the redshifts of stars of a similar size, effectively determining that no matter where a star itself is located or where it’s moving in relation to Earth, it can be expected to have an intrinsic gravitational redshift of a certain value. Think of it as taking an average measurement of all the pitches of all fire engines moving around in a given area at a given time—you can expect that any fire engine, no matter which direction it’s moving, will have an intrinsic pitch of that average value.

These intrinsic gravitational redshift values can be used to study stars that are observed in future datasets. The researchers say that upcoming datasets that are larger and more accurate will allow for further fine-tuning of their measurements, and that this data may contribute to the future analysis of white dwarf chemical composition.

They also say their study represents an exciting advance from theory to observed phenomena.

“Because the star gets smaller as it gets more massive, the gravitational redshift effect also grows with mass,” Zakamska says. “And this is a bit easier to comprehend—it’s easier to get out of a less dense, bigger object than it is to get out of a more massive, more compact object. And that’s exactly what we saw in the data.”

The team is even finding captive audiences for their research at home—where they’ve conducted their work amid the coronavirus pandemic.

“The way I extolled it to my granddad is, you’re basically seeing quantum mechanics and Einstein’s theory of general relativity coming together to produce this result,” Chandra says. “He was very excited when I put it that way.”

Reference: “A Gravitational Redshift Measurement of the White Dwarf Mass–Radius Relation” by Vedant Chandra, Hsiang-Chih Hwang, Nadia L. Zakamska and Sihao Cheng, 25 August 2020, Astrophysical Journal.
DOI: 10.3847/1538-4357/aba8a2
arXiv: 2007.14517

27 Comments on "Quantum Mechanics and General Relativity Come Together: Astrophysicists Observe Long-Theorized Quantum Phenomena"

  1. Now everybody likes to connect their researches with quantum mechanics or relativity to make them sound advanced and abstruse. But very unfortunately, these two theories are completely wrong theories.

    Einstein made a fatal mistake in his special relativity. He postulates that the speed of light should be the same relative to all inertial reference frames, which forces the change of the definition of space and time. But he never verified that the newly defined time was still the time measured with physical clocks. Please be aware that our physical time i.e. clock time won’t change with the change of the definition of the space and time. Actually, the newly defined relativistic time is indeed not the time measured with physical clocks any longer. It is just a mathematical variable without physical meaning, which can be easily verified as follows:

    We know physical time T has a relationship with the relativistic time t in Einstein’s special relativity: T = tf/k where f is the relativistic frequency of the clock and k is a calibration constant, that is, a clock uses the change of the status of a physical process to indirectly measure time. Now We would like to use the behavior of our physical time in Lorentz Transformation to demonstrate that the relativistic time t defined by Lorentz Transformation is no longer our physical time T.

    If you have a clock (clock 1) with you and watch my clock (clock 2) in motion and both clocks are set to be synchronized to show the same physical time T relative to your inertial reference frame, you will see your clock time: T1 = tf1/k1 = T and my clock time: T2 = tf2/k2 = T, where t is the relativistic time of your reference frame, f1 and f2 are the relativistic frequencies of clock 1 and clock 2 respectively, k1 and k2 are calibration constants of the clocks. The two events (Clock1, T1=T, x1=0, y1=0, z1=0, t1=t) and (Clock2, T2=T, x2=vt, y2=0, z2=0, t2=t) are simultaneous measured with both relativistic time t and clock time T in your reference frame. When these two clocks are observed by me in the moving inertial reference frame, according to special relativity, we can use Lorentz Transformation to get the events in my frame (x’, y’, z’, t’): (clock1, T1′, x1’=-vt1′, y1’=0, z1’=0, t1’=t/γ) and (clock2, T2′, x2’=0, y2’=0, z2’=0, t2’=γt), where T1′ = t1’f1’/k1 = (t/γ)(γf1)/k1 = tf1/k1 = T1 = T and T2′ = t2’f2’/k2 = (γt)(f2/γ)/k2 = tf2/k2 = T2 = T, where γ = 1/sqrt(1-v^2/c^2). That is, no matter observed from which inertial reference frame, the events are still simultaneous measured with physical time T i.e. the two clocks are always synchronized measured with physical time T, but not synchronized measured with relativistic time t’. Therefore, our physical time and the relativistic time behave differently in Lorentz Transformation and thus they are not the same thing. The change of the reference frame only makes changes of the relativistic time from t to t’ and the relativistic frequency from f to f’, which cancel each other in the formula: T = tf/k to make the physical time T unchanged i.e. our physical time is still absolute in special relativity. Based on the artificial relativistic time, special relativity is wrong, so is general relativity. There is no such thing called spacetime in nature, not to mention the expansion, singularity, ripples of spacetime. For more details, please check: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/297527784_Challenge_to_the_Special_Theory_of_Relativity

    As special relativity has been disproved, then there is no such speed in nature that can be the same observed from all inertial reference frames. Thus, the speed of light can be isotropic only relative to its own medium – aether which seems a fluid filling up the entire space in the visible part of the universe, delivering all electromagnetic forces and playing critical roles in all physical processes around us. Quantum mechanics without taking into account the effects of aether is simply wrong. The so-called particle-wave duality seems like the behavior of a particle moving in aether to generate aether waves just like the behavior of a bullet moving in the air to generate sound waves. There is no such thing called waves of probability in nature, and thus there is no such phenomenon called quantum entanglement in nature.

    As the two pillars of modern physics are wrong, it is really an unwise strategy to connect your researches to these wrong theories, which simply makes them ruined.

    • I see that you published your paper in 2016. Something tells me that most scientists are not paying much attention, given that you need to post a comment on a random website to get some attention. I’ll leave the Physics buffs to disprove your comments. I don’t dispute that you are a smart person. But even smart people can think they discovered a sliced bread …

      • Torbjörn Larsson | September 30, 2020 at 3:15 pm | Reply

        It isn’t a peer reviewed paper containing science, it is posted as an essay in a vanity press bogus journal.

        “A vanity press, vanity publisher, or subsidy publisher is a publishing house in which authors pay to have their books published.[1] Where mainstream publishers aim to sell enough copies of a book to cover their own costs, and typically reject a majority of the books submitted to them, a vanity press will usually publish any book that a writer pays it to.

        Because vanity presses are usually unselective, publication by a vanity press is typically not seen as conferring the same recognition or prestige as commercial publication.”

        “Vanity academic journals also exist, often called bogus journals, which will publish with little or no editorial oversight (although they may claim to be peer reviewed).”

        [Vanity Press @ Wikipedia]

        And paying for publishing pseudoscience isn’t smart in the eyes of scientists, or in the eyes of anyone that wants to use their money well.

      • Torbjörn Larsson | September 30, 2020 at 3:32 pm | Reply

        By the way, this is good practice if you see reference:

        – Never assume it is a useful reference. It can take some effort to start accumulate a list of non-bogus journals – and still check if a published paper passed peer review – but there are some – mostly dated unfortunately – lists of bogus journals published out there. You can also try to track down the journal publishing credentials if you are unfamiliar with it (as I had to do in this case). And after the preliminary check, try to read the paper – which is an acuqired taste – and make use of your good judgment and perhaps the paper references or textbooks, encyclopedias and so on.

        – Never assume the author is a scientist or “smart” or educated. For example, anyone can register to Researchgate, unfortunately. “If you haven’t registered yet, start by visiting [ResearchGate] and clicking Join for free.” [ResearchGate]. It is based on trust and moral, and unfortunately people take advantage. That is why peers and peer review is the gating mechanism – it is a meritocracy after all.

    • Time dilation in the presence of gravity has been experimentally verified many times, including using GPS satellites, with very real “physical” clocks. One of the first gps hardware series in fact could run clocks both with and without relativistic correction. Guess which one turned out to be right …

    • Torbjörn Larsson | September 30, 2020 at 3:08 pm | Reply

      I’ve said this before in response to a similar outpouring of yours, as Gene notes: this is obviously wrong.

      Your persistent comments or the original essay makes no sense being posted on science sites.

    • Albert Einstein: “We may say that according to the general theory of relativity space is endowed with physical qualities; in this sense, therefore, there exists an aether. According to the general theory of relativity space without aether is unthinkable; for in such space there not only would be no propagation of light, but also no possibility of existence for standards of space and time (measuring-rods and clocks), nor therefore any space-time intervals in the physical sense. But this aether may not be thought of as endowed with the quality characteristic of ponderable media, as consisting of parts which may be tracked through time. The idea of motion may not be applied to it.”

      “aether” is a term without a singular definition, as observed by it’s use by Einstein to describe General Relativity AND being considered an alternate (but not generally accepted) theory of physics. I am not a physicist nor a mathematician, but I can apply the smell test, and your ideas kinda smell fishy.

  2. AllOtherScientists | September 30, 2020 at 1:13 pm | Reply


  3. @shen

    “Thus, the speed of light can be isotropic only relative to its own medium – aether which seems a fluid filling up the entire space in the visible part of the universe, delivering all electromagnetic forces and playing critical roles in all physical processes around us.”

    There is no aether.

  4. Really. He “extolled” it to his granddad. Right.

  5. @Shen

    From the link you posted:
    “The existence of such an absolute and universal clock time is confirmed by the universal synchronization of all ground and satellite clocks of the global positioning system and by the theoretical existence of the absolute and universal Galilean time within the framework of the STR.”

    I thought they have to make micro adjustments to keep everything in sync due to the effects of STR. I’m not a scientist, just confused. Is this wrong?

    • Torbjörn Larsson | September 30, 2020 at 3:21 pm | Reply

      It’s actually both special relativity and general relativity corrected:

      “Special and general relativity predict that the clocks on the GPS satellites would be seen by the Earth’s observers to run 38 microseconds faster per day than the clocks on the Earth. The GPS calculated positions would quickly drift into error, accumulating to 10 kilometers per day (6 mi/d). This was corrected for in the design of GPS.[18]”

      [Global Positioning System @ Wikipedia]

      Yes, Galilean coordinate systems haven’t been useful in many areas for a century now, where instead modern physics is needed.

      • If you know the very basic of special relativity, you should realize that STR tells us that clocks can never be synchronized relative to more than one inertial reference frame no matter how you correct them because “time is relative”, but the clocks on the GPS satellites after correction are synchronized relative to all reference frames (see GPS on Wikipedia). It is normal that all clocks running in different environments need calibrations. Relativists just use such calibrations to mislead the public.

        As you waste your time to repeatedly deny the credibility of a credible peer-reviewed journal, why don’t you refute what I presented? Science is not based on orthodox, but logical reasoning.

        • Torbjörn Larsson | October 1, 2020 at 4:52 pm | Reply

          Special relativity is a topic in undergraduate studies [ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Special_relativity ]. It is used in GPS systems, as is general relativity, so there is nothing “misleading” – your claim is easily seen as wrong.

          I don waste time on bogus journal texts, since it isn’t peer reviewed, see earlier comments here. There is nothing to “deny” since you haven’t published any science yet – if you think so you are deluded, see the same comments.

          • Torbjörn Larsson | October 1, 2020 at 5:02 pm |

            By the way, I may sound harsh, but I have already provided a basic check list to riddle what is published science and what is not (and what to check further if it has passed peer review publication). That should help you, in case you want to be serious about the topic.

            Another tip on science is that today it is almost all group work published. So it may be a good idea to study at a university, in case research is the goal.

        • Torbjörn Larsson | October 1, 2020 at 4:57 pm | Reply

          I’ll add that the whole thread agree, speaking of review – some may have studied SR like me so we are peers on that.

          But mostly I wanted to insert a new reference link (as there is just one link per direct-publishing comment):

          “Einstein’s description of gravity just got much harder to beat after astrophysicists put general relativity to a new test with black hole images.

          Einstein’s theory of general relativity — the idea that gravity is matter warping spacetime — has withstood over 100 years of scrutiny and testing, including the newest test from the Event Horizon Telescope collaboration, published today in the latest issue of Physical Review Letters.

          According to the findings, Einstein’s theory just got 500 times harder to beat.”

          [ https://scitechdaily.com/einsteins-theory-of-general-relativity-tested-using-black-hole-shadow/ ]

          So while you have wasted your time and money avoiding real publication – if that is what you are attempting – you have just made your work 500 times harder.

          • Xinhang Shen | October 2, 2020 at 7:04 am |

            If you think your defamation of Physics Essays is correct, why don’t you and any other people rewrite the Wikipedia on “Physics Essays”:

            “Physics Essays is a peer-reviewed scientific journal covering theoretical and experimental physics. It was established in 1988 and the editor-in-chief is E. Panarella.”

            Please be careful in your irresponsible words! If you don’t understand STR and can’t refute my points, please keep quiet!

          • Torbjörn Larsson | October 2, 2020 at 4:58 pm |

            I did check that. I also quoted references that show that a bogus journal mentioning peer review means nothing (of course). Stop arguing that I haven’t provided facts in good faith.

            And perhaps you should instead start to take responsibility for your anti-science pseudoscience activities.

            “The journal was abstracted in Current Contents/Physical, Chemical, and Earth Sciences and the Science Citation Index Expanded until it was dropped in 2015.[12] After re-evaluation, it is now included in the Emerging Sources Citation Index.[13] After re-evaluation, it is now included in the Emerging Sources Citation Index.[13] ” [Physics Essays @ Wikipedia]

            “Criteria for selection of newly submitted titles and re-evaluation of existing titles in the Web of Science are determined by the Web of Science Editors in their sole discretion. If a publisher’s editorial policy or business practices negatively impact the quality of a journal, or its role in the surrounding literature of the subject, the Web of Science Editors may decline to include the journal in any Clarivate product or service. The Web of Science Editors, in their sole discretion, may remove titles from coverage at any point if the titles fail to maintain our standard of quality, do not comply with ethical standards, or otherwise do not meet the criteria determined by the Web of Science Editors. If a journal is deselected or removed from coverage, the journal will cease to be indexed in the Web of Science from a date determined by the Web of Science Editors in their sole discretion – articles published after that date will not be indexed. The Web of Science Editors’ decision on all matters relating to journal coverage will be final.”

            [ https://mjl.clarivate.com/home?Full=PHYSICS%20ESSAYS ]

            “Jeffrey Beall argued that among the databases produced by Clarivate Analytics, the Emerging Sources Citation Index is the easiest one to get into and that as a result it contains many predatory journals.”

            [ Emerging Sources Citation Index @ Wikipedia]

            The downgrading into a group that contains predatory journals means it is not a reliable reference to use for a scientist.

          • Torbjörn Larsson | October 2, 2020 at 5:12 pm |

            Oh, I forgot: In any case it is clear that the journal is not meeting the standards in the field, according to a large science publisher.

            And it was public knowledge it did not meet such standards in 2015, which is the year before you had your essay (which is a personal argument, not a paper to peer review) published.

            “Essays are commonly used as literary criticism, political manifestos, learned arguments, observations of daily life, recollections, and reflections of the author.” [Essay @ Wikipedia]

          • Torbjörn Larsson | October 2, 2020 at 5:16 pm |

            I’ll also add that I deem the topic closed, as far as I’m concerned. I have – to my knowledge – given valid references to all my claims, and I doubt I will have time to do more.

            hopefully it helped delineate what is science, papers and peer review, and what is not.

          • Xinhang Shen | October 4, 2020 at 2:13 pm |

            Why don’t you try some logical refutation here instead of wasting so much time on nonsense, if you really know something about STR?

  6. Justin Goldsworthy | September 30, 2020 at 2:12 pm | Reply

    Taxi!!! For a mr shen….taxi for a mr.shen….

  7. Torbjörn Larsson | September 30, 2020 at 3:00 pm | Reply

    Nice article!

    The exposition is a step along the process where eventually a denser star, which do not explode, form a black hole. That is the endpoint already at a semiclassical model (classical gravity, everything else quantum particle fields), at the Planck scale of quantum physics.

  8. Zachary Goldberg | September 30, 2020 at 6:48 pm | Reply

    Love how armchair scientist quarterbacks chime in saying everyone’s wrong

  9. When a young person full of newly learned physics and maths I pushed hard my proof of time being fundamental and gravity being emergent. Very strongly and often.

    Unfortunately, further education happened to me. Ruined all the ideally balanced equations showing the truth by publishing hands on physical proof of my wrongness.
    Shame on them, my theory was beautiful.

  10. @Dave

    Suspect the physics here went right over your head, so you had to find something to niggle about to make you feel better…except that your grasp of English seems equally crappy…

    I’d say getting a paper in AJ while still a student is worthy of “enthusiastic praise”, me

    Just…go mow the lawn, or something, hmm…?

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