Virtual particles

In physics, a virtual particle is a transient fluctuation that exhibits some of the characteristics of an ordinary particle, but whose existence is limited by the uncertainty principle. The concept of virtual particles arises in perturbation theory of quantum field theory where interactions between ordinary particles are described in terms of exchanges of virtual particles. Any process involving virtual particles admits a schematic representation known as a Feynman diagram, in which virtual particles are represented by internal lines.

A Feynmann diagram showing a wavey line in the middle represents a virtual photon that causes the repulsion of the two electrons. image: wikipedia


Virtual particles do not necessarily carry the same mass as the corresponding real particle, although they always conserve energy and momentum. The longer the virtual particle exists, the closer its characteristics come to those of ordinary particles. They are important in the physics of many processes, including particle scattering and Casimir forces. In quantum field theory, even classical forces—such as the electromagnetic repulsion or attraction between two charges—can be thought of as due to the exchange of many virtual photons between the charges.

The term is somewhat loose and vaguely defined, in that it refers to the view that the world is made up of "real particles": it is not; rather, "real particles" are better understood to be excitations of the underlying quantum fields. Virtual particles are also excitations of the underlying fields, but are "temporary" in the sense that they appear in calculations of interactions, but never as asymptotic states or indices to the scattering matrix. The accuracy and use of virtual particles in calculations is firmly established, but as they cannot be detected in experiments, deciding how to precisely describe them is a topic of debate.

Source adapted from: Wikipedia contributors. (2018, October 11). Virtual particle. In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 09:01, November 3, 2018, from https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Virtual_particle&oldid=863485160


Recent related video: Here is a really good PBS Spacetime video explaining  how virtual particles can be viewed