Key takeaways

  • Newton’s Law of Universal Gravitation and Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity have limitations, especially with black holes and low acceleration in wide binary stars.
  • A study found that wide binary stars with very low accelerations deviate from predictions by Newton and Einstein, showing 30-40% higher accelerations.
  • Dark matter, which is largely unknown, might influence these strange gravitational behaviors at low accelerations.
  • The study supports MOND, a theory suggesting that gravity behaves differently at low accelerations, explaining the unexpected acceleration boost.
  • While Chae’s findings support MOND, more observational data is required to confirm its validity and potentially redefine our understanding of gravity.

In 1687, English physicist Isaac Newton published his well-known Law of Universal Gravitation. The theory that all objects attract in proportion to their mass was groundbreaking and proved to be a major help in comprehending the workings of the cosmos. However, Newton’s groundbreaking work had limitations—namely, it could not explain gravitational phenomena such as black holes and gravitational waves. Fortunately, Albert Einstein came along in the early twentieth century to help patch things up with his Theory of General Relativity.

However, space is a vast place, and even Einsteins occasionally reach their limit. One of the most well-known of these boundaries is a black hole’s center, or singularity, at which Einstein’s renowned theory appears to fail utterly. A new study by experts at South Korea’s Sejong University reveals that another limit to Newton and Einstein’s understanding of gravity can be discovered in the orbital motions of long-period, widely spaced binary stars—also known simply as “wide binaries.” The findings of this investigation were reported in the Astrophysical Journal.

After analyzing 26,500 wide binaries within 650 lightyears captured by the European Space Agency’s Gaia space observatory, co-author Kyu-Hyun Chae discovered something unusual: when these celestial objects achieved extremely low orbital accelerations of around 0.1 nanometers per second squared, the observed accelerations were nearly 30 to 40 percent higher than Newton-Einstein models predicted. However, if the accelerations exceeded 10 nanometers per second squared, they followed the Newton-Einstein theory as expected. Something strange is happening, especially at these really low accelerations.

Dark matter notions are critical in the standard gravity model. Because scientists know nothing about this hypothetical kind of matter and energy that is thought to make up the vast bulk of the cosmos, dark matter could be affecting this odd gravitational relationship. However, Chae contends that Modified Newtonian Dynamics, or MOND, first postulated by Israeli physicist Mordehai Milgrom in 1983, could explain (among other galaxy abnormalities) these minor acceleration discrepancies.

The most startling aspect is that a MOND-influenced gravity theory, co-authored by Milgrom, explains the unexpected 1.4 times acceleration boost. This hypothesis is known as A Quadratic Lagrangian, or AQUAL, and Chae claims that his research “represents direct evidence for the breakdown of standard gravity at weak acceleration.”

“This systematic deviation agrees with the boost factor that the AQUAL theory predicts for kinematic accelerations in circular orbits under the Galactic external field,” according to Chae in the research.

MOND, like the Newton-Einstein theory, is limited and challenging due to the elusive particle known as dark matter. Chae’s study appears to be a major +1 in the pro column for Modified Newtonian Dynamics, but the theory remains just that. It will require far more observational evidence before it challenges our current understanding of gravity and the cosmos we live in.

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