Spin Me Right Round Baby

Scientists Are Investigating If Time Warps Near a Nuclear Reactor

Here's why physicists placed two atomic clocks at different distances from a nuclear reactor.

pinwhalestock via Pixabay
Image by pinwhalestock via Pixabay

A team of theoretical physicists at Griffiths University in Australia are investigating a radical quantum theory of time which posits that there is a asymmetry between time and space.

To explain why time points from the past to the future, scientists have proposed that under the second law of thermodynamics, time itself moves towards increased entropy, a measurement of disorder in a system.

But the new Australian hypothesis, first proposed by Australian physicist Joan Vaccaro in 2016, suggests instead that this increased entropy isn’t the root cause of the direction the “arrow of time” moves — it’s just a symptom of the flow of time.

The theory suggests that the changes we observe over time aren’t fundamentally linked, but emerge as a result of time reversal symmetry violations, otherwise known as “T violations.”

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In a video presenting her work that dates back to 2017, Vaccaro uses an analogy of a tree in the wind. The increased entropy of the leaves appears to “create the dynamic nature of time, but it’s just evidence that there is something dynamic going on.” In this analogy, the wind represents T violations.

“All our laws are time reversible, you have exactly the same dynamics in the same directions,” Vaccaro explained in the video. But an increase in entropy over time seems to violate these time reversal conditions.

Vaccaro suggests that thanks to T violations, matter is able to remain localized in time. Space and time aren’t interconnected, as the word “spacetime” often suggests — otherwise objects would be able to blink in and out of existence over time. In other words, Vaccaro argues that T violations stop objects from disappearing at random.

To prove her controversial theory, a team of researchers at Griffith University are conducting an experiment that involves the Open-pool Australian lightwater reactor (OPAL), a 20 megawatt nuclear reactor generating a vast stream of anti-neutrinos. Neutrinos subatomic particles that only interact very weakly with matter, while anti neutrinos are their oppositely charged counterparts.

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The theory goes that if a clock were placed near this reactor, time would be dilated, when compared to a clock some ways away. That’s because neutrinos exhibit time symmetry violations, as scientists have suggested in the past.

In the experiment, the team placed two highly precise atomic clocks at two different distances from the reactor. If one clock ends up moving at a slower rate, that would be evidence of local T violations closer to the reactor, supporting Vaccano’s theory.

In other words, if Vaccano’s theory is correct, neutrinos would be interacting with matter caused by time, not just by a weak nuclear force.

If there isn’t any evidence of time slowing down near the reactor, a likely outcome, we’d fall back on current physical models.

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If proven, Vaccano’s theory could rewrite how we understand the connections between space and time — making it highly controversial in the field.

READ MORE: Physicists to look for quantum time dilation inside nuclear reactor [New Atlas]

More on time and space: Scientists Are Rethinking the Very Nature of Space and Time


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