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The Nature of Reality

What Are Gravitons?

14 May 2014, 18:08 UTC
What Are Gravitons?
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In a contest for the least contentious statement a person can make, “What goes up must come down” is surely a strong contender. Of the four known fundamental forces—gravity, the electromagnetic force, and the strong and weak nuclear forces—we have the most intuitive understanding of gravity. From our first experiments dropping Cheerios from our high chair, we spend our lives coming to grips with the limitations that gravity imposes on us.

Credit: Christoph Zurbuchen/Flickr, adapted under a Creative Commons license.
In the late 1600s, Isaac Newton devised the first serious theory of gravity. He described gravity as a field that could reach out across great distances and dictate the path of massive objects like the Earth. Newton’s theory was stunningly effective, yet the nature of the gravitational field remained a mystery. In 1915, Albert Einstein’s theory of general relativity gave theorists their first look “under the hood” of gravity. What we call gravity, Einstein argued, is actually the distortion of space and time. The Earth looks like it’s rounding the Sun in an ellipse, but it’s actually following a straight line through warped spacetime.
Einstein’s theory of gravity is very good at explaining the behavior of large objects. But just ...

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