Gravity’s Residue

In 1965 a particle theorist derived a formula for the collision of elementary particles. Twenty years later two gravitation theorists, using completely different techniques, derived a formula for the collision of stars or black holes. And they were the same formula. The only difference was that the first used ‘p’ to denote momentum and the second used ‘P’. Harvard physicist Andy Strominger jokes that “a six-year-old could look at those two papers” and spot the similarity. But evidently no six-year-old did, so their resemblance went unnoticed until Strominger realized it in 2014. What the formulas have in common is that they concern how gravity and other forces act on large scales. With the help of an FQXi grant of over $45,000, Strominger and his colleagues have been investigating how they may offer a new and unusual path to unifying the laws of physics.

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