Universe and Quantum Fluctuation
Date: Winter 2012-2013
I have recently heard that the universe might have been the result of a quantum fluctuation. I am confused about this because I had thought that quantum fluctuations (the popping in an out of existence of virtual particles) only occurred in empty space/quantum vacuum. If time and space were created at the big bang, would that mean that there was no quantum vacuum in which fluctuations could occur, and no time in which events could take place?
Thanks for the question. The creation and subsequent annihilation of a virtual particle occurs because of the energy-time uncertainty principle in quantum mechanics. The energy-time uncertainty principle states that the product of the energy fluctuation and the time interval must be greater than h (Planck's constant or 6.626*10^-34 J s). It would be effectively impossible for the universe to be the result of a quantum fluctuation since the energy fluctuation would be very, very large so the time interval would be very, very short---certainly milliseconds or less.
Virtual particles can form in vacuum or in matter. For examples, I would recommend reading about beta decay and pair production.
I hope this helps. Please let me know if you have any additional questions.
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Update: November 2011