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Negative energy

negative energy quotes, negative energy
Negative energy is a concept used in physics to explain the nature of certain fields, including the gravitational field and various quantum field effects

In more speculative theories, negative energy is involved in wormholes which may allow for time travel and warp drives for faster-than-light space travel


  • 1 Gravitational energy
  • 2 Quantum field effects
    • 21 Casimir effect
    • 22 Squeezed light
    • 23 Hawking radiation
    • 24 Dirac sea
  • 3 Speculative suggestions
    • 31 Wormholes
    • 32 Warp drive
  • 4 See also
  • 5 References
    • 51 Inline notes
    • 52 Bibliography

Gravitational energy

Main article: Gravitational energy

The strength of the gravitational attraction between two objects represents the amount of gravitational energy in the field which attracts them towards each other When they are infinitely far apart, the gravitational attraction and hence energy approach zero As two such massive objects move towards each other, the motion accelerates under gravity causing an increase in the positive kinetic energy of the system At the same time, the gravitational attraction - and hence energy - also increase in magnitude, but the law of energy conservation requires that the net energy of the system not change This issue can only be resolved if the change in gravitational energy is negative, thus cancelling out the positive change in kinetic energy Since the gravitational energy is getting stronger, this decrease can only mean that it is negative[1]

A universe in which positive energy dominates will eventually collapse in a "big crunch", while an "open" universe in which negative energy dominates will either expand indefinitely or eventually disintegrate in a "big rip" In the zero-energy universe model "flat" or "Euclidean", the total amount of energy in the universe is exactly zero: its amount of positive energy in the form of matter is exactly cancelled out by its negative energy in the form of gravity[2]

Quantum field effects

Negative energies and negative energy density are consistent with quantum field theory[3]

Casimir effect

Main article: Casimir effect

In the Casimir effect, two flat plates placed very close together restrict the wavelengths of quanta which can exist between them This in turn restricts the types and hence number and density of virtual particle pairs which can form in the intervening vacuum and can result in a negative energy density This causes an attractive force between the plates, which has been measured[4]

Squeezed light

Main article: Squeezed light

It is possible to arrange multiple beams of laser light such that destructive quantum interference suppresses the vacuum fluctuations Such a squeezed vacuum state involves negative energy The repetitive waveform of light leads to alternating regions of positive and negative energy[4]

Hawking radiation

Main article: Hawking radiation

Virtual particles with negative energy can exist for a short period This phenomenon is a part of the mechanism involved in Hawking radiation by which black holes evaporate[5]

Dirac sea

Main article: Dirac sea

According to the theory of the Dirac sea, developed by Paul Dirac in 1930, the vacuum of space is full of negative energy This theory was developed to explain the anomaly of negative-energy quantum states predicted by the Dirac equation

The Dirac sea theory correctly predicted the existence of antimatter two years prior to the discovery of the positron in 1932 by Carl Anderson However, the Dirac sea theory treats antimatter as a hole where there is the absence of a particle rather than as a real particle Quantum field theory QFT, developed in the 1930s, deals with antimatter in a way that treats antimatter as made of real particles rather than the absence of particles, and treats a vacuum as being empty of particles rather than full of negative-energy particles like in the Dirac sea theory

Quantum field theory has displaced the Dirac sea theory as a more popular explanation of these aspects of physics Both the Dirac sea theory and quantum field theory are equivalent by means of a Bogoliubov transformation, so the Dirac sea can be viewed as an alternative formulation of quantum field theory, and is thus consistent with it[6]

Speculative suggestions


Main article: Wormhole

Negative energy appears in the speculative theory of wormholes, where it is needed to keep the wormhole open A wormhole directly connects two locations which may be separated arbitrarily far apart in both space and time, and in principle allows near-instantaneous travel between them[7]

Warp drive

Main article: Warp drive

A theoretical principle for a faster-than-light FTL warp drive for spaceships has been suggested, involving negative energy The Alcubierre drive comprises a solution to Einstein's equations of general relativity, in which a bubble of spacetime is moved rapidly by expanding space behind it and shrinking space in front of it[4]

See also

  • Antimatter
  • Dark energy
  • Dark matter
  • Exotic matter
  • Negative mass


Inline notes

  1. ^ Alan Guth The Inflationary Universe: The Quest for a New Theory of Cosmic Origins 1997, Random House, ISBN 0-224-04448-6 Appendix A: Gravitational Energy demonstrates the negativity of gravitational energy
  2. ^ Stephen Hawking; The Grand Design, 2010, Page 180
  3. ^ Everett, Allen; Roman, Thomas 2012 Time Travel and Warp Drives University of Chicago Press p 167 ISBN 0-226-22498-8 
  4. ^ a b c Ford and Roman 2000
  5. ^ Stephen Hawking; A Brief History of Time, Bantam 1988, Pages 105-107 ISBN 0-593-01518-5
  6. ^ López de Recalde, Andrea 2017 The Standard Electro-Weak Theory, 2nd Edition Morrisville, North Carolina: LuLu Press, Inc p 65 ISBN 978-1-365-65887-7 
  7. ^ Stephen Hawking; "How to build a time machine", Mail Online 27 April 2010retrieved 4 November 2014


  • Lawrence H Ford and Thomas A Roman; "Negative energy, wormholes and warp drive", Scientific American January 2000, 282, Pages 46–53

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