By ROB WAUGH
PUBLISHED: 06:07 EST, 24 July 2012 | UPDATED: 06:24 EST, 24 July 2012
- Third kind of bond after ionic and covalent
- Found only in white dwarf stars – with magnetic fields 10,000 times stronger than any on Earth
- Find rewrites rules of universe
- Could lead to new discoveries in quantum physics
- Techniques used to analyse bonds could lead to new computers
A new kind of bond between atoms found only in the crushingly intense magnetic fields of white dwarf stars could unlock new secrets of quantum physics.
The find – a ‘third kind’ of bond between atoms, unknown on Earth – could also unlock the secrets of ultra-powerful new computers.
The find rewrites the rules of the universe – adding a third kind of bond after the ‘ionic’ and ‘covalent’ bonds learned by schoolchildren.
A burned out white dwarf captured by Hubble: White dwarf stars have magnetic fields 10,000 times stronger than the strongest fields on Earth – and the strange chemical bonds occur within the fields
WHAT IS A QUANTUM COMPUTER?
A quantum computer would use quibits which, based on theories of quantum physics, would be able to exist in more than one state at once – a zero, one and all values in between.
A quantum computer would therefore be able to perform calculations in parallel, arriving at the result much, much faster than regular computers.
However, working out how to store and manipulate quibits has been a major stumbling block in efforts to develop a quantum computer.
The problem is that in order for a quibit to exist, it must be isolated from its surroundings to stop it being destroyed in a process called decoherence.
But in order to use a quibit to make calculations, it must be able to interact with other information.
White dwarf stars have magnetic fields 10,000 times stronger than the strongest fields on Earth – and the strange chemical bonds occur within the fields.
White dwarfs are the final stage of life of stars like our Sun – once the thermonuclear furnace inside a star ‘burns out’.
Karl Lange and colleagues at the Univrsity of Oslo were studying white dwarf stars when they found that hydrogen atoms were not behaving like they should.
Now scientists have pushed the limit of how long information can be stored in solid state, outside a vacuum.
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The bonds could not ever be recreated on Earth – the magnetism would destroy the apparatus used to recreate it.
One of the lead reesarchers told Nature News: ‘The experimental apparatus would cease to be an apparatus in these extreme conditions!’
But the increased understanding of how atoms interact could lead to new discoveries in quantum physics – and even to new generations of quantum computer.
Red giant and white dwarf: White dwarfs are the final stage of life of stars like our Sun – once the thermonuclear furnace inside a star ‘burns out’