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Massive Space Structures Have Surprising Connection to Quantum Mechanics Math


Enormous disks of stars or debris can operate under the same rules as subatomic particles, changing based on the Schrodinger equation, which physicists use to model quantum-mechanical systems.

Viewing space structures with that equation can lend new insights into how galaxies evolve, as well as reveal clues about the mechanics of the early solar system and the action of rings circling distant planets, a new study reports.

California Institute of Technology researcher Konstantin Batygin, author of the new study, hadn't expected to find that particular equation when studying those astrophysical disks. "At the time, I was completely floored," Batygin told "I was expecting the regular wave equation to appear, something like the wave of a string or something like that. And instead, I get this equation, which is really the cornerstone of quantum mechanics." [Planet-Building 'Flying Saucer' Disk Is Surprisingly Cool (Video)]

Using the Schrodinger equation, physicists can interpret the interactions of systems on atomic and subatomic scales in terms of waves as well as particles — a key concept in quantum mechanics that describes those systems' sometimes unintuitive behavior. It turns out, the warping of astrophysical disks can act like particles, too.

"In retrospect, when I look at the problem now, I'm surprised at how I didn't just guess that that's what it was going to be," said Batygin, who's perhaps best known (to laypeople, anyway) for co-authoring a 2016 study with fellow Caltech researcher Mike Brown that found evidence for a possible undiscovered "Planet Nine" in the dark depths of our outer solar system.

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