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Astrophysical disks governed by equation for subatomic matter

Astrophysical disks are among the top unsolved problems of astrophysics and now a scientist at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) has shown how the equations of subatomic matter can be used to describe them.

Gravitationally bound rotating systems are generally accompanied by a rotating disk of matter perpendicular to the axis of rotation. This can be seen in the rings of Saturn, the planets around the Sun, accretion disks around black holes and the swarms of stars around galactic supermassive black holes. However, these disks do not always retain a symmetrical stable shape and oftentimes exhibit huge distortions and warping due to the inter-dynamics of the rotating system, the disk material and the surrounding material. Furthermore, the disk composition varies within disks and between disks. For example, protoplanetary disks are predominantly composed of hydrogen and helium which can be modelled similar to a fluid, whereas the disks of stars orbiting supermassive black holes are better modelled by purely gravitational effects. Understanding the complex dynamics and evolution of these disks has thus proved difficult. However, in an attempt to define the gravitational rigidity and evolution of these disks, Konstantin Batygin decided to look at the approximation method of perturbation theory. Batygin is a planetary astrophysicist so naturally began with the original perturbation theory as developed by Lagrange and Laplace in the context of celestial mechanics to account for the ‘perturbing’ of a planetary body while in orbit about the Sun. The results of his study showed that the Schrodinger equation, normally used to describe sub-atomic matter, can also be used to describe the long-term evolution of astrophysical disks. This is another example of the macro-micro connection that is fundamental and obvious to unified physics, and thus has huge and exciting implications.

The research has just been published in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical society and no doubt further research will yield new insights into our understanding of the dynamics of astrophysical bodies as well as to the understanding of subatomic matter.

- Amira Val Baker


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