Quantum sensor networks as exotic field telescopes for multi-messenger astronomy


Multi-messenger astronomy, the coordinated observation of different classes of signals that originate from the same astrophysical event, provides a wealth of information about astrophysical processes1. So far, multi-messenger astronomy has correlated signals from known fundamental forces and standard model particles like electromagnetic radiation, neutrinos and gravitational waves. Many of the open questions of modern physics suggest the existence of exotic fields with light quanta (with masses 1 eV c−2). Quantum sensor networks could be used to search for astrophysical signals that are predicted by theories beyond the standard model2 that address these questions. Here, we show that networks of precision quantum sensors that, by design, are shielded from or are insensitive to conventional standard model physics signals can be a powerful tool for multi-messenger astronomy. We consider the case in which high-energy astrophysical events produce intense bursts of exotic low-mass fields (ELFs), and we propose a novel model for the potential detection of an ELF signal on the basis of general assumptions. We estimate ELF signal amplitudes, delays, rates and distances of gravitational-wave sources to which global networks of atomic magnetometers3,4,5 and atomic clocks6,7,8 could be sensitive. We find that such precision quantum sensor networks can function as ELF telescopes to detect signals from sources that generate ELF bursts of sufficient intensity.

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Fig. 1: Effect of dispersion on the expected ELF signal at a precision quantum sensor.
Fig. 2: Time–frequency decomposition for power spectrum of an ELF signal at a sensor.
Fig. 3: Projected atomic-clock sensitivity to ELFs that are plausibly emitted during the BNS merger GW170817.

Data availability

The data that support the plots within this paper and other findings of this study are available from the corresponding author upon reasonable request.


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We thank L. Bernard, G. Blewitt, S. Bonazzola, D. Budker, A. Furniss, S. Gardner, E. Gourgoulhon, K. Grimm, J. E. Lawler, R. Plotkin, M. Pospelov, J. Pradler, B. Safdi, A. P. Sen, J. E. Stalnaker and C. Will for discussions. This work was supported in part by the European Research Council under the European Unions Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme (grant no. 695405), the DFG Reinhart Koselleck project, the Polish National Science Centre (grant no. 2015/19/B/ST2/02129), the Simons and Heising-Simons Foundations, and by the US National Science Foundation (grant nos. PHY-1707875, PHY-1806672 and PHY-1912465).

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A.D., C.D. and D.F.J.K. conceived the project. All authors contributed to the development of the methodology. A.D., C.D., D.F.J.K. and I.A.S. wrote the original draft of the paper. All authors reviewed and edited the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Andrei Derevianko.

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Peer review information Nature Astronomy thanks Guglielmo Tino and the other, anonymous, reviewer(s) for their contribution to the peer review of this work.

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Supplementary Information

Supplementary discussion, Supplementary Figs. 1 and 2, Supplementary Tables 1 and 2.

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Dailey, C., Bradley, C., Jackson Kimball, D.F. et al. Quantum sensor networks as exotic field telescopes for multi-messenger astronomy. Nat Astron (2020). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41550-020-01242-7

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