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The electromagnetic force and strong and weak forces require particles like photons and gluons. But in case of gravity there is no such particle found.

Every mass bearing object creates a gravitational field around it, and whenever another mass bearing object enters its field the gravitational force comes into operation.

If all other forces of nature have some particles associated with them why should gravity be an exception?

And if there is no such particle, what exactly is the gravitational field and how does it spread over an infinite distance and cause the gravitational force to operate?


Note: I am a high school student and have not studied quantum mechanics.

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I asked this and got a nice explanation that helped me grok Gravity as a space-time concept: physics.stackexchange.com/q/81220 –  HC_ Jun 3 at 17:31

5 Answers 5

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Since you don't fully understand the answer of JamalS, I'll try to explain it shorter and easier for you.

If all other forces of nature have some particles associated with them why should gravity be an exception?

No, it isn't an exception. Physicists believe that they do appear, it's just they haven't found it yet. Standard Model doesn't have gravity, but extended Standard Model may contain it. Thanks to string theory.

What exactly is the gravitational field and how does it spread over an infinite distance and cause the gravitational force to operate?

It is exactly the space and the time. How do space and time appear? Big Bang. How does gravity operate? A change in space and time give you a gravitation force. Like a change in position gives you velocity, a change in energy gives you a work. A change is very important, it will give you another interesting point. If you have studied differential, you now know how important it is: describing a change.

To real physicists: I am talking with a high school student.

Edit: By referring a change in space and time, I don't mean like a car, travels through cities from morning to afternoon. It's like reforming it.

From Wikipedia:

Matter changes the geometry of spacetime, this (curved) geometry being interpreted as gravity.

enter image description here

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Didn't time exist before Big Bang? Famous Philosophical question, happens to be questioned from your quote "How do space and time appear? Big Bang." –  Godparticle Jun 3 at 11:58
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No, it doesn't. And for your question, I believe that mathematics and physics answer better than philosophy. I believe you should use it for questioning, not answering. –  Ooker Jun 3 at 12:00
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@brightmagus The point of gravity-as-curvature-of-space is that there is no "real" acceleration - we're only interpreting it as an acceleration, but in reality, the thing is moving linearly in a curved space. In this interpretation, gravitational force is only an apparent force. So that satellite that gets constantly attracted to the Earth is actually going forward at constant speed in a curved space. That's the tricky part about the "ball rolls down a hill" interpretation - it introduces another fake force that acts against the curvature of space that just isn't there. Intuitive, but wrong. –  Luaan Jun 4 at 8:31
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@brightmagus I've not said the curvature is linear. I'm saying the path of an orbitting object is linear with respect to the spacetime geometry. This is the inertial-vs.-non-inertial force thing, think rotation. You're being constantly accelerated, your velocity vector constantly changes, and yet this does not require any energy - in that given reference frame. When you're standing on Earth's surface, you're no longer inertial with respect to the ground (you're no longer following a geodesic). As you lose contact with the ground, you start going straight again. Until you hit the ground. –  Luaan Jun 4 at 8:56
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@GreenAsJade Yeah, that's entirely correct - the image is extremely misleading, because it looks like a "rift" in a cloth that attracts things to the lowest point. Of course, that's the newtonian approach, not the GR approach, so it doesn't really fit well. The thing you have to understand is that the satellite doesn't roll down the ridge, it actually goes forward - it doesn't orbit around the planet on a circle, it goes in a straight line - there's no "real" forces acting on it, it's not being accelerated, it just keeps on moving with the same, unchanging velocity vector. –  Luaan Jun 5 at 9:46

My theory is that gravity is the result of the incomplete cancellation of the atom's electromagnetic forces, due to the fact that there is a spatial separation between the charges. If this is correct, then the graviton would have "similar" properties as a photon, but very weak ($ Eg = Ep \times 10 ^{-39} $ ), which is the reason it has not been found.

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That's a nice hypothesis. However, it would also mean that you're postulating that all of the charged and neutral particles (including the "fundamental" electron or neutrino) actually exhibit spatial separation of charges. That can be argued for atoms and, say, neutrons, but what evidence is there that it would be true for, say, neutrinos? Residual EM force from the weak force? Two charged particles still attract each other gravitationally (which was confirmed by experiments with different charges and masses of particles). –  Luaan Jul 18 at 8:56
    
Luaan, are you saying that there is some experiment that was capable of detecting a force difference of 10^-39? –  Guill Sep 28 at 8:28
    
Well, would the residual force obey the inverse square law? It doesn't seem likely, since the others we've observed (weak and strong nuclear force, Van der Waals' forces...) don't seem to. Yet gravity does. As for the experiment, you're probably right that I've mixed it up with scenarios which are complex enough to still allow your hypothesis to hold true. But there's many things it would have to explain to get hold - gravitational lensing, for example. –  Luaan Sep 29 at 7:18

I don't think the other answers have clearly called out that we do not know. Yes, we do have the (rather wonderful) theory of general relativity (GR), which does an excellent job of explaining the effect of gravity.

It does this by relating the presence of mass (strictly "stress-energy") to the structure of space-time. It also states how that effect propagates through space and time. So from a classical perspective, space-time itself can be seen as a gravitational field.

What it does not say is how space-time is able to interact with mass.

We expect that a quantum field theory type process is involved, and a lot of work goes in to determining this. Relating GR and quantum theory is in fact the fundamental problem of theoretical physics.

One of the key problems in solving this is in fact the very success of GR - we lack experimental evidence of it failing and hence providing a lead on where to improve it via quantum effects.

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"I don't think the other answers have clearly called out that we do not know." Best answer here! Many young people, students, enquiring minds, etc, reading this: may simply not realise, this is the case. Just as Keith says. –  Joe Blow Jun 5 at 11:18
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In retrospect, my physics education was overly good at focusing on what we do know with extremely little time spent explaining what we do not. "What we do not know" is where the real work is to be done in creating new science. It was (and probably is) possible to graduate top of your class and know nothing of this, at least from the curriculum. –  Keith Jun 5 at 23:21

Gravity has a classical description called general theory of relativity (GTR), and it adequately describes the "force" of gravity as a consequence of space-time geometry.

However, a curved space around the gravitational body is an approximate description to a more precise quantum theory of gravity that will eventually replace GTR as it can be applied to micro or macroscopic systems. GTR replaced the Newtonian paradigm, but the description of gravity as a "pseudo force" takes it a step back. No one will ever say that a sky diver died because his parachute didn't deploy in that curved space.

For that matter the view of someone falling from the sky is a straight path and again fails to explain even Newton's gravitational constant. Curves take longer to traverse than straight lines and light being gravitationally lensed proves this. I have a lot more to say about this topic, but I will keep it to conventional means.

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Actually, GR works in the microscopic world as well. The problem integrating it with the standard model of physics is that it doesn't use mediator particles and quantum fields. It's very much possible that gravity simply isn't "quantum"-based, and that the attempts at finding a quantum theory of gravity are simply trying to find "particles" where they're not. GR doesn't "explain" the gravitational constant, but it is used in the proportionality constant - basically, the ratio between Enstein tensor and the energy-momentum tensor. It does relate spacetime structure to speed of light and gravity –  Luaan Jun 5 at 10:04

You're quite right that the other fundamental forces of Nature possess mediator particles, e.g. the photon for the electromagnetic force. For gravity, a graviton particle has been postulated, and is included in the five standard string theories which are candidates for quantum gravity. From a quantum field theory perspective, the graviton arises as an excitation of the gravitational field. String theory, of course, postulates it arises in the spectrum of a closed string.


Mass certainly gives rise to a gravitational field, but many other quantities do as well, according to the field equations of general relativity. As you're a high school student, I'll present them as,

$$\underbrace{G_{\mu\nu}}_{\text{geometry}}\sim \underbrace{T_{\mu\nu}}_{\text{matter}}$$

Spacetime geometry, and hence the gravitational effects, are equated to the matter present in a system, which may include energy, pressure and other quantities other than mass.


From a general relativity standpoint, the gravitational field may be viewed, or interpreted, as the curvature of spacetime, which is a manifold, i.e. surface. If we take space to be infinitely large, then the gravitational field must extend indefinetely; otherwise where would we choose to truncate? Even from a Newtonian perspective, we see that given the equation,

$$F_g \sim \frac{1}{r^2}$$

gravity must extend infinitely, as we never reach the point $r=\infty$ where it is truly zero.


As you asked, if the graviton is postulated, what is the need for a field? Well, we known that particle number is not conserved; we can have virtual particle and anti-particle pair production, and as such the idea that a field propagates throughout space, and the particles are excitations of the field, is a more compatible viewpoint. In addition, the concept of a field arises because of locality. From empirical evidence we know gravitation and electromagnetism do not act instantaneously, at every point.

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@Avik: See the updated answer. –  JamalS Jun 3 at 10:06
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@Avik: I've really tamed the answer down as you're a high school student, but let me know if you want the technical details regardless. –  JamalS Jun 3 at 10:16
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@JamalS thank you for your time :) i am not sure i will be able to understand the technical details though –  Avik Jun 3 at 10:20
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@Avik Field concept (in quantum field theory - QFT) is necessary for all particles: electrons, photons, quarks, etc. Particles are described as quanta (something like "elementary ripples") in fields. In QFT you cannot have a particle without a field: fields are the more fundamental, underlying concept. So you cannot have a graviton without a gravity field. Graviton is hypothesized as an "elementary ripple" in the curved spacetime. –  mpv Jun 3 at 12:25
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@self.: The graviton is a massless gauge boson, and gravitational waves can experience the Doppler effect. –  JamalS Jun 3 at 14:33

protected by Qmechanic Jun 3 at 17:34

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