Scientists have long known that blackbodies produce radiation and that radiation creates a repulsive effect. However, according to a new study there's another force at play, one that acts a bit like gravity and attracts objects to the blackbody. They're calling it "blackbody force."
Blackbodies, celestial objects that are perfectly non-reflective, shift the atomic energy of molecules around them in what's known as the Stark effect. This occurs when the electric field created by the blackbody radiation sends photons into surrounding molecules and atoms that often create the repulsive energy we're used to seeing around blackbodies. However, if the energy level of the photon is just right and the radiating blackbody is less than about 6,000-degrees Kelvin, it creates an attractive force that's greater than the radiation pressure and, in some cases, greater than the force of gravity.
This new blackbody force only affects the smallest particles in the universe, though it has an effect on basic astrophysical scenarios. The Austrian team of scientists that discovered the force are particularly interested in how it affects cosmic dust. "These sub-micron-sized grains play an important role in the formation of planets and stars or in astro-chemistry," M. Sonnleitner at the University of Innsbruck told PhysOrg. "Apparently there are some open questions on how they interact with surrounding hydrogen gas or with each other. Right now we are exploring how this additional attractive force affects the dynamics of atoms and dust."
Scientists have so far had a hard time replicating the effect in a laboratory, but when they do, they hope it will shed light on some fundamental questions of astrophysics. At the very least, it will be pretty cool to see a new force at work, even if it only works on tiny things.
Image via Flickr / Waifer X