Introduction to Astrophysics/Vacuum Energy

Vacuum energy is an underlying background energy that exists inspace throughout the entire Universe. One contribution to the vacuum energy may be from virtual particles which are thought to be particle pairs that blink into existence and then annihilate in a timespan too short to observe. They are expected to do this everywhere, throughout the Universe. Their behavior is codified in Heisenberg's energy–time uncertainty principle. Still, the exact effect of such fleeting bits of energy is difficult to quantify.

The effects of vacuum energy can be experimentally observed in various phenomena such as spontaneous emission, the Casimir effect and the Lamb shift, and are thought to influence the behavior of the Universe on cosmological scales. Using the upper limit of the cosmological constant, the vacuum energy of free space has been estimated to be 10−9 joules (10−2 ergs) per cubic meter. However, in both quantum electrodynamics (QED) and stochastic electrodynamics (SED), consistency with the principle of Lorentz covariance and with the magnitude of the Planck constant requires it to have a much larger value of 10113 joules per cubic meter.This huge discrepancy is known as the vacuum catastrophe.