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Virtual particle

In quantum field theory, the uncertainty principle implies the number of particles in an area of space is not a well-defined quantity, but like other quantum observables is represented by a probability distribution. Since these particles do not have a permanent existence, they are called virtual particles or vacuum fluctuations.

Even though we can't see them, we know that these virtual particles are "really there" in empty space because they leave a detectable trace of their activities. One effect of virtual photons, for example, is to produce a tiny shift in the energy levels of atoms. They also cause an equally tiny change in the magnetic moment[?] of electrons. These minute but significant alterations have been very accurately measured using spectroscopic techniques. The Casimir effect is an attraction between two uncharged parallel metal plates because fewer virtual particles can be created between the plates than in the surrounding space.

Virtual particles are often created as a pair of particle-antiparticle.



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