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This article is about the hypothetical particle. For other uses, see Graviton (disambiguation).
Composition Elementary particle
Statistics Bose–Einstein statistics
Interactions Gravitation
Status Theoretical
Symbol G[1]
Antiparticle Self
Theorized 1930s[2]
The name is attributed to Dmitrii Blokhintsev and F. M. Gal'perin in 1934[3]
Discovered Hypothetical
Mass 0
Mean lifetime Stable
Electric charge e
Spin 2

In physics, the graviton is a hypothetical elementary particle that mediates the force of gravitation in the framework of quantum field theory. If it exists, the graviton is expected to be massless (because the gravitational force appears to have unlimited range) and must be a spin-2 boson. The spin follows from the fact that the source of gravitation is the stress–energy tensor, a second-rank tensor (compared to electromagnetism's spin-1 photon, the source of which is the four-current, a first-rank tensor). Additionally, it can be shown that any massless spin-2 field would give rise to a force indistinguishable from gravitation, because a massless spin-2 field must couple to (interact with) the stress–energy tensor in the same way that the gravitational field does. Seeing as the graviton is hypothetical, its discovery would unite quantum theory with gravity.[4] This result suggests that, if a massless spin-2 particle is discovered, it must be the graviton, so that the only experimental verification needed for the graviton may simply be the discovery of a massless spin-2 particle.[5]


The three other known forces of nature are mediated by elementary particles: electromagnetism by the photon, the strong interaction by the gluons, and the weak interaction by the W and Z bosons. The hypothesis is that the gravitational interaction is likewise mediated by an – as yet undiscovered – elementary particle, dubbed as the graviton. In the classical limit, the theory would reduce to general relativity and conform to Newton's law of gravitation in the weak-field limit.[6][7][8]

Gravitons and renormalization[edit]

When describing graviton interactions, the classical theory of Feynman diagrams, and semiclassical corrections such as one-loop diagrams behave normally. But, Feynman diagrams with at least two loops lead to ultraviolet divergences. These infinite results cannot be removed because quantized general relativity is not perturbatively renormalizable, unlike quantum electrodynamics models such as Yang-Mills. Therefore, incalculable answers are found from the perturbation method by which physicists calculate the probability of a particle to emit or absorb gravitons; and the theory loses predictive veracity. Those problems and the complementary approximation framework are grounds to show that a theory more unified than quantized general relativity suffices to describe the behavior near the Planck scale.

Comparison with other forces[edit]

Unlike the force carriers of the other forces, gravitation plays a special role in general relativity in defining the spacetime in which events take place. In some descriptions, matter modifies the 'shape' of spacetime itself, and gravity is a result of this shape, an idea which at first glance may appear hard to match with the idea of a force acting between particles.[9] Because the diffeomorphism invariance of the theory does not allow any particular space-time background to be singled out as the "true" space-time background, general relativity is said to be background independent. In contrast, the Standard Model is not background independent, with Minkowski space enjoying a special status as the fixed background space-time.[10] A theory of quantum gravity is needed in order to reconcile these differences.[11] Whether this theory should be background independent is an open question. The answer to this question will determine our understanding of what specific role gravitation plays in the fate of the universe.[12]

Gravitons in speculative theories[edit]

String theory predicts the existence of gravitons and their well-defined interactions. A graviton in perturbative string theory is a closed string in a very particular low-energy vibrational state. The scattering of gravitons in string theory can also be computed from the correlation functions in conformal field theory, as dictated by the AdS/CFT correspondence, or from matrix theory.[citation needed]

A feature of gravitons in string theory is that, as closed strings without endpoints, they would not be bound to branes and could move freely between them. If we live on a brane (as hypothesized by brane theories) this "leakage" of gravitons from the brane into higher-dimensional space could explain why gravitation is such a weak force, and gravitons from other branes adjacent to our own could provide a potential explanation for dark matter. However, if gravitons were to move completely freely between branes this would dilute gravity too much, causing a violation of Newton's inverse square law. To combat this, Lisa Randall found that a three-brane (such as ours) would have a gravitational pull of its own, preventing gravitons from drifting freely, possibly resulting in the diluted gravity we observe while roughly maintaining Newton's inverse square law.[13] See brane cosmology.

A theory by Ahmed Farag Ali and Saurya Das adds quantum mechanical corrections (using Bohm trajectories) to general relativistic geodesics. If gravitons are given a small but non-zero mass, it could explain the cosmological constant without need for dark energy and solve the smallness[clarification needed] problem.[14]

Experimental observation[edit]

Unambiguous detection of individual gravitons, though not prohibited by any fundamental law, is impossible with any physically reasonable detector.[15] The reason is the extremely low cross section for the interaction of gravitons with matter. For example, a detector with the mass of Jupiter and 100% efficiency, placed in close orbit around a neutron star, would only be expected to observe one graviton every 10 years, even under the most favorable conditions. It would be impossible to discriminate these events from the background of neutrinos, since the dimensions of the required neutrino shield would ensure collapse into a black hole.[15]

Experiments to detect gravitational waves, which may be viewed as coherent states of many gravitons, have confirmed the existence of gravitational waves. Although these experiments cannot detect individual gravitons, they might provide information about certain properties of the graviton.[16] For example, if gravitational waves were observed to propagate slower than c (the speed of light in a vacuum), that would imply that the graviton has mass (however, gravitational waves must propagate slower than c in a region with non-zero mass density if they are to be detectable).[17] Recent observations of gravitational waves have put an upper bound of 1.2 × 10-22 eV/c2 on the graviton's mass.[18] Astronomical observations of the kinematics of galaxies, especially the galaxy rotation problem and modified Newtonian dynamics, might point toward gravitons having non-zero mass.[19]

Difficulties and outstanding issues[edit]

Most theories containing gravitons suffer from severe problems. Attempts to extend the Standard Model or other quantum field theories by adding gravitons run into serious theoretical difficulties at high energies (processes involving energies close to or above the Planck scale) because of infinities arising due to quantum effects (in technical terms, gravitation is nonrenormalizable). Since classical general relativity and quantum mechanics seem to be incompatible at such energies, from a theoretical point of view, this situation is not tenable. One possible solution is to replace particles with strings. String theories are quantum theories of gravity in the sense that they reduce to classical general relativity plus field theory at low energies, but are fully quantum mechanical, contain a graviton, and are believed to be mathematically consistent.[20]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ G is used to avoid confusion with gluons (symbol g)
  2. ^ Rovelli, C. (2001). "Notes for a brief history of quantum gravity". arXiv:gr-qc/0006061 [gr-qc]. 
  3. ^ Blokhintsev, D. I.; Gal'perin, F. M. (1934). "Gipoteza neitrino i zakon sokhraneniya energii" [Neutrino hypothesis and conservation of energy]. Pod Znamenem Marxisma (in Russian) 6: 147–157. 
  4. ^ Lightman, A. P.; Press, W. H.; Price, R. H.; Teukolsky, S. A. (1975). "Problem 12.16". Problem book in Relativity and Gravitation. Princeton University Press. ISBN 0-691-08162-X. 
  5. ^ For a comparison of the geometric derivation and the (non-geometric) spin-2 field derivation of general relativity, refer to box 18.1 (and also 17.2.5) of Misner, C. W.; Thorne, K. S.; Wheeler, J. A. (1973). Gravitation. W. H. Freeman. ISBN 0-7167-0344-0. 
  6. ^ Feynman, R. P.; Morinigo, F. B.; Wagner, W. G.; Hatfield, B. (1995). Feynman Lectures on Gravitation. Addison-Wesley. ISBN 0-201-62734-5. 
  7. ^ Zee, A. (2003). Quantum Field Theory in a Nutshell. Princeton University Press. ISBN 0-691-01019-6. 
  8. ^ Randall, L. (2005). Warped Passages: Unraveling the Universe's Hidden Dimensions. Ecco Press. ISBN 0-06-053108-8. 
  9. ^ See the other articles on General relativity, Gravitational field, Gravitational wave, etc
  10. ^ Colosi, D.; et al. (2005). "Background independence in a nutshell: The dynamics of a tetrahedron". Classical and Quantum Gravity 22 (14): 2971. arXiv:gr-qc/0408079. Bibcode:2005CQGra..22.2971C. doi:10.1088/0264-9381/22/14/008. 
  11. ^ Witten, E. (1993). "Quantum Background Independence In String Theory". arXiv:hep-th/9306122 [hep-th]. 
  12. ^ Smolin, L. (2005). "The case for background independence". arXiv:hep-th/0507235 [hep-th]. 
  13. ^ Kaku, Michio (2006). Parallel Worlds - The science of alternative universes and our future in the Cosmos. pp. 218–221. 
  14. ^ Ali, Ahmed Farang (2014). "Cosmology from quantum potential". Physical Letters B 741: 276–279. arXiv:1404.3093v3. doi:10.1016/j.physletb.2014.12.057. 
  15. ^ a b Rothman, T.; Boughn, S. (2006). "Can Gravitons be Detected?". Foundations of Physics 36 (12): 1801–1825. arXiv:gr-qc/0601043. Bibcode:2006FoPh...36.1801R. doi:10.1007/s10701-006-9081-9. 
  16. ^ Dyson, Freeman (8 October 2013). "Is a graviton detectable?". International Journal of Modern Physics A 28 (25): 1330041–1–1330035–14. Bibcode:2013IJMPA..2830041D. doi:10.1142/S0217751X1330041X. 
  17. ^ Will, C. M. (1998). "Bounding the mass of the graviton using gravitational-wave observations of inspiralling compact binaries". Physical Review D 57 (4): 2061–2068. arXiv:gr-qc/9709011. Bibcode:1998PhRvD..57.2061W. doi:10.1103/PhysRevD.57.2061. 
  18. ^ Phys. Rev. Lett. 116, 061102 – Published 11 February 2016
  19. ^ Trippe, S. (2013), "A Simplified Treatment of Gravitational Interaction on Galactic Scales", J. Kor. Astron. Soc. 46, 41. arXiv:1211.4692
  20. ^ Sokal, A. (July 22, 1996). "Don't Pull the String Yet on Superstring Theory". The New York Times. Retrieved March 26, 2010. 

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