List of unsolved problems in physics

The major unsolved problems[1] in physics are either problematic with regards to theoretically considered scientific data, meaning that existing analysis and theory seem incapable of explaining certain observed phenomenon or experimental results, or problematic with regards to experimental design, meaning that there is a difficulty in creating an experiment to test a proposed theory or investigate a phenomenon in greater detail.

There are still some questions beyond the Standard Model of physics, such as the strong CP problem, neutrino mass, matter–antimatter asymmetry, and the nature of dark matter and dark energy.[2][3] Another problem lies within the mathematical framework of the Standard Model itself—the Standard Model is inconsistent with that of general relativity, to the point that one or both theories break down under certain conditions (for example within known spacetime singularities like the Big Bang and the centres of black holes beyond the event horizon).

General physics/quantum physicsEdit

  • Arrow of time[4] (e.g. entropy's arrow of time):
    • Why does time have a direction?
    • Why did the universe have such low entropy in the past, and time correlates with the universal (but not local) increase in entropy, from the past and to the future, according to the second law of thermodynamics?[4]
    • Why are CP violations observed in certain weak force decays, but not elsewhere?
    • Are CP violations somehow a product of the second law of thermodynamics, or are they a separate arrow of time?
    • Are there exceptions to the principle of causality?
    • Is there a single possible past?
    • Is the present moment physically distinct from the past and future, or is it merely an emergent property of consciousness?
    • What links the quantum arrow of time to the thermodynamic arrow?
  • Color confinement - The quantum chromodynamics (QCD) color confinement conjecture is that color charged particles (such as quarks and gluons) cannot be separated from their parent hadron without producing new hadrons[5]
    • Is it possible to provide an analytic proof of color confinement in any non-abelian gauge theory?
  • Dimensionless physical constant - At the present time, the values of the dimensionless physical constants cannot be calculated; they are determined only by physical measurement[6][7]
    • What is the minimum number of dimensionless physical constants from which all other dimensionless physical constants can be derived?
    • Are dimensional physical constants necessary at all?
  • Fine-tuned universe - The values of the fundamental physical constants are in a narrow range necessary to support carbon-based life.[8][9][10]
  • Interpretation of quantum mechanics:
    • How does the quantum description of reality, which includes elements such as the superposition of states and wavefunction collapse or quantum decoherence, give rise to the reality we perceive?[4] Another way of stating this question regards the measurement problem: What constitutes a "measurement" which apparently causes the wave function to collapse into a definite state?
    • Unlike classical physical processes, some quantum mechanical processes (such as quantum teleportation arising from quantum entanglement) cannot be simultaneously "local", "causal", and "real", but it is not obvious which of these properties must be sacrificed,[11] or if an attempt to describe quantum mechanical processes in these senses is a category error such that a proper understanding of quantum mechanics would render the question meaningless. Can a multiverse resolve it?
  • Locality:
    • Are there non-local phenomena in quantum physics?[12][13]
    • If non-local phenomena exist, are the phenomena limited to the entanglement revealed in the violations of the Bell inequalities, or can information and conserved quantities also move in a non-local way?
    • Under what circumstances are non-local phenomena observed?
    • What does the existence or absence of non-local phenomena imply about the fundamental structure of spacetime?
    • How does this elucidate the proper interpretation of the fundamental nature of quantum physics?
  • Quantum field theory: Is it possible to construct, in the mathematically rigorous framework of algebraic QFT, a theory in 4-dimensional spacetime that includes interactions and does not resort to perturbative methods?[14][15]
  • Theory of everything is a hypothetical holistic explaination for all universal phenomena: [16]
    • Is there a theory which explains the values of all fundamental physical constants, i.e., of all coupling constants, all elementary particle masses and all mixing angles of elementary particles?
    • Is there a theory which explains why the gauge groups of the standard model are as they are, and why observed spacetime has 3 spatial dimensions and 1 temporal dimension? Are "fundamental physical constants" really fundamental or do they vary over time?
    • Are any of the fundamental particles in the standard model of particle physics actually composite particles too tightly bound to observe as such at current experimental energies?
    • Are there elementary particles that have not yet been observed, and, if so, which ones are they and what are their properties? Are there unobserved fundamental forces?
  • Yang–Mills theory: Given an arbitrary compact gauge group, does a non-trivial quantum Yang–Mills theory with a finite mass gap exist? (This problem is also listed as one of the Millennium Prize Problems in mathematics.)[17]

Astronomy and astrophysicsEdit

  • Age–metallicity relation in the Galactic disk: Is there a universal age–metallicity relation (AMR) in the Galactic disk (both "thin" and "thick" parts of the disk)? Although in the local (primarily thin) disk of the Milky Way there is no evidence of a strong AMR,[18] a sample of 229 nearby "thick" disk stars has been used to investigate the existence of an age–metallicity relation in the Galactic thick disk, and indicate that there is an age–metallicity relation present in the thick disk.[19][20] Stellar ages from asteroseismology confirm the lack of any strong age–metallicity relation in the Galactic disc.[21]
  • Astrophysical jet:
    • Why do only certain accretion discs surrounding certain astronomical objects emit relativistic jets along their polar axes?
    • Why are there quasi-periodic oscillations in many accretion discs?[22]
    • Why does the period of these oscillations scale as the inverse of the mass of the central object?[23]
    • Why are there sometimes overtones, and why do these appear at different frequency ratios in different objects?[24]
  • Coronal heating problem:
    • Why is the Sun's corona (atmosphere layer) so much hotter than the Sun's surface?
    • Why is the magnetic reconnection effect many orders of magnitude faster than predicted by standard models?
  • Cosmological lithium problem: Why is there a discrepancy between the amount of lithium-7 predicted to be produced in Big Bang nucleosynthesis and the amount observed in very old stars?[25]
  • Diffuse interstellar bands:
    • What is responsible for the numerous interstellar absorption lines detected in astronomical spectra?
    • Are they molecular in origin, and if so which molecules are responsible for them? How do they form?
  • Fast radio bursts (FRBs):
    • What causes these transient radio pulses from distant galaxies, lasting only a few milliseconds each?
    • Why do some FRBs repeat at unpredictable intervals, but most do not? Dozens of models have been proposed, but none have been widely accepted.[26]
  • Flyby anomaly: Why is the observed energy of satellites flying by planetary bodies sometimes different by a minute amount from the value predicted by theory?
  • Galaxy rotation problem: Is dark matter responsible for differences in observed and theoretical speed of stars revolving around the centre of galaxies, or is it something else?
  • Kuiper cliff: Why does the number of objects in the Solar System's Kuiper belt fall off rapidly and unexpectedly beyond a radius of 50 astronomical units?
  • Large-scale anisotropy: Is the universe at very large scales anisotropic, making the cosmological principle an invalid assumption? The number count and intensity dipole anisotropy in radio, NRAO VLA Sky Survey (NVSS) catalogue[27] is inconsistent with the local motion as derived from cosmic microwave background[28][29] and indicate an intrinsic dipole anisotropy. The same NVSS radio data also shows an intrinsic dipole in polarization density and degree of polarization[30] in the same direction as in number count and intensity. There are several other observations revealing large-scale anisotropy. The optical polarization from quasars shows polarization alignment over a very large scale of Gpc.[31][32][33] The cosmic-microwave-background data shows several features of anisotropy,[34][35][36][37] which are not consistent with the Big Bang model.
  • Origin of magnetar magnetic field: What is the origin of magnetar magnetic field?
  • p-nuclei: What astrophysical process is responsible for the nucleogenesis of these rare isotopes?
  • Rotation rate of Saturn:
    • Why does the magnetosphere of Saturn exhibit a (slowly changing) periodicity close to that at which the planet's clouds rotate?
    • What is the true rotation rate of Saturn's deep interior?[38]
  • Solar cycle:
    • How does the Sun generate its periodically reversing large-scale magnetic field?
    • How do other solar-like stars generate their magnetic fields, and what are the similarities and differences between stellar activity cycles and that of the Sun?[39]
    • What caused the Maunder Minimum and other grand minima, and how does the solar cycle recover from a minima state?
  • Supermassive black holes:
    • What is the origin of the M–sigma relation between supermassive black hole mass and galaxy velocity dispersion?[40]
    • How did the most distant quasars grow their supermassive black holes up to 1010 solar masses so early in the history of the universe?
Rotation curve of a typical spiral galaxy: predicted (A) and observed (B). Can the discrepancy between the curves be attributed to dark matter?

Atomic, molecular and optical physicsEdit


  • Homochirality: What is the origin of the preponderance of specific enantiomers in biochemical systems?
  • Magnetoreception: How do animals (e.g. migratory birds) sense the Earth's magnetic field?
  • Protein structure prediction:
    • How is the three-dimensional structure of proteins determined by the one-dimensional amino acid sequence?
    • How can proteins fold on microsecond to second timescales when the number of possible conformations is astronomical and conformational transitions occur on the picosecond to microsecond timescale?
    • Can algorithms be written to predict a protein's three-dimensional structure from its sequence?
    • Do the native structures of most naturally occurring proteins coincide with the global minimum of the free energy in conformational space? Or are most native conformations thermodynamically unstable, but kinetically trapped in metastable states?
    • What keeps the high density of proteins present inside cells from precipitating?[44]
  • Quantitative study of the immune system:
  • Stochasticity and robustness to noise in gene expression: How do genes govern our body, withstanding different external pressures and internal stochasticity? Certain models exist for genetic processes, but we are far from understanding the whole picture, in particular in development where gene expression must be tightly regulated.

Condensed matter physicsEdit

A sample of a cuprate superconductor (specifically BSCCO). The mechanism for superconductivity of these materials is unknown.
Magnetoresistance in a u = 8/5 fractional quantum Hall state.
  • Whiskers (metallurgy): In electrical devices, some metallic surfaces may spontaneously grow fine metallic whiskers, which can lead to equipment failures. While compressive mechanical stress is known to encourage whisker formation, the growth mechanism has yet to be determined.

Cosmology and general relativityEdit

Estimated distribution of dark matter and dark energy in the universe
  • Dark energy:
    • What is the cause of the observed accelerated expansion (de Sitter phase) of the universe?
    • Why is the energy density of the dark energy component of the same magnitude as the density of matter at present when the two evolve quite differently over time; could it be simply that we are observing at exactly the right time?
    • Is dark energy a pure cosmological constant or are models of quintessence such as phantom energy applicable?
  • Dark flow: Is a non-spherically symmetric gravitational pull from outside the observable universe responsible for some of the observed motion of large objects such as galactic clusters in the universe?
  • Dark matter:
  • Extra dimensions:
    • Does nature have more than four spacetime dimensions?
      • If so, what is their size?
    • Are dimensions a fundamental property of the universe or an emergent result of other physical laws?
    • Can we experimentally observe evidence of higher spatial dimensions?
  • Horizon problem:
  • The largest structures in the universe are larger than expected. Current cosmological models say there should be very little structure on scales larger than a few hundred million light years across, due to the expansion of the universe trumping the effect of gravity.[65] But the Sloan Great Wall is 1.38 billion light-years in length. And the largest structure currently known, the Hercules–Corona Borealis Great Wall, is up to 10 billion light-years in length. Are these actual structures or random density fluctuations? If they are real structures, they contradict the 'End of Greatness' hypothesis which asserts that at a scale of 300 million light-years structures seen in smaller surveys are randomized to the extent that the smooth distribution of the universe is visually apparent.
  • Problem of time: In quantum mechanics time is a classical background parameter and the flow of time is universal and absolute. In general relativity time is one component of four-dimensional spacetime, and the flow of time changes depending on the curvature of spacetime and the spacetime trajectory of the observer. How can these two concepts of time be reconciled?[66]
  • Shape of the universe:
    • What is the 3-manifold of comoving space, i.e. of a comoving spatial section of the universe, informally called the "shape" of the universe? Neither the curvature nor the topology is presently known, though the curvature is known to be "close" to zero on observable scales. The cosmic inflation hypothesis suggests that the shape of the universe may be unmeasurable, but, since 2003, Jean-Pierre Luminet, et al., and other groups have suggested that the shape of the universe may be the Poincaré dodecahedral space. Is the shape unmeasurable; the Poincaré space; or another 3-manifold?
  • Size of universe: The diameter of the observable universe is about 93 billion light-years, but what is the size of the whole universe?
  • Why is there something rather than nothing?, Origin and future of the universe:

Fluid dynamicsEdit

High-energy physics/particle physicsEdit

  • Anomalous magnetic dipole moment: Why is the experimentally measured value of the muon's anomalous magnetic dipole moment ("muon g−2") significantly different from the theoretically predicted value of that physical constant?[68]
  • Generations of matter: Why are there three generations of quarks and leptons? Is there a theory that can explain the masses of particular quarks and leptons in particular generations from first principles (a theory of Yukawa couplings)?[69]
  • Hierarchy problem:
  • Koide formula: An aspect of the problem of particle generations. The sum of the masses of the three charged leptons, divided by the square of the sum of the roots of these masses, to within one standard deviation of observations, is  . It is unknown how such a simple value comes about, and why it is the exact arithmetic average of the possible extreme values of 13 (equal masses) and 1 (one mass dominates).
  • Magnetic monopoles: Did particles that carry "magnetic charge" exist in some past, higher-energy epoch? If so, do any remain today? (Paul Dirac showed the existence of some types of magnetic monopoles would explain charge quantization.)[70]
  • Mu problem: problem of supersymmetric theories, concerned with understanding the parameters of the theory.
  • Neutrino mass:
    • What is the mass of neutrinos, whether they follow Dirac or Majorana statistics?
    • Is the mass hierarchy normal or inverted?
    • Is the CP violating phase equal to 0?[71][72]
  • Neutron lifetime puzzle: While the neutron lifetime has been studied for decades, there currently exists a lack of consilience on its exact value, due to different results from two experimental methods ("bottle" versus "beam").[73]
  • Pentaquarks and other exotic hadrons: What combinations of quarks are possible? Why were pentaquarks so difficult to discover?[74] Are they a tightly-bound system of five elementary particles, or a more weakly-bound pairing of a baryon and a meson?[75]
  • Proton decay and spin crisis: Is the proton fundamentally stable? Or does it decay with a finite lifetime as predicted by some extensions to the standard model?[76] How do the quarks and gluons carry the spin of protons?[77]
  • Proton radius puzzle: What is the electric charge radius of the proton? How does it differ from gluonic charge?
  • Strong CP problem and axions:
  • Supersymmetry:
    • Is spacetime supersymmetry realized at TeV scale?
      • If so, what is the mechanism of supersymmetry breaking?
    • Does supersymmetry stabilize the electroweak scale, preventing high quantum corrections?
    • Does the lightest supersymmetric particle (LSP) comprise dark matter?

Nuclear physicsEdit

The "island of stability" in the proton vs. neutron number plot for heavy nuclei

Plasma physicsEdit

Quantum gravityEdit

See alsoEdit


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