Date: Thursday, November 28, 2002
Why do electrons and other particles spin. Why do all
As for the particles, I do not know why they spin. We do not even know if
they really do spin. We know they are magnetic. We know that a moving
electric charge makes a magnetic field. We also know that electric charge
moving in a circle makes a magnetic field exactly like that of the various
particles. Saying the particles spin is an easy way to explain their
magnetism. It also agrees with the different kinds of collisions that can
happen. If the particles do really spin, nobody knows why.
As for planets spinning, that is a whole different thing. Try to throw a
baseball without having it spin at all. Try to throw a Frisbee without any
spin. Try to hit a golf ball with no spin at all. Unless an object has
special wings like a glider, it is almost impossible to send an object
flying without having it spin. A planet is usually a whole bunch of matter
that has crashed together. After all the crashing is over and done with,
after the planet is all "glued together", there is nothing to keep it still.
It is very likely to be spinning and very likely to be orbiting. Different
planets spin at different rates because there is no law about it. I imagine
somewhere in the universe is a planet that does not spin. None of the nine
in our solar system qualify.
Dr. Ken Mellendorf
Illinois Central College
The "spin" of electrons and other atomic and sub-atomic particles is not
the same concept as the "spin" of a planet except that both involve angular
momentum. The "why" of electron spin is not really the way to verbalize the
phenomenon. The behavior of electrons in a magnetic field
(Zeeman effect), the spectrum of hydrogen (and other atoms), and other
behaviors require the introduction of a new quantum number. This falls out
as a natural consequence of Doric's theory of the electron and Feynman's
quantum electrodynamic description (see "Lectures on Physics" by R. Feynman
for a discussion that is readable). So spin is an observation that "is", and
the "why" is that is the way nature behaves.
The "spins" you refer to have very different. Planets and most
astronomical bodies spin about some axis or revolution. In the case of the
moon, this spinning may become "locked in" thus the observation that the
moon shows the same face to the earth. This is caused by gravitational drag.
The web site: http://home2.planetinternet.be/ballaux gives details.
Electron "spin" is a different animal. Beginning in the early 20th century
the study of electronic spectrum of the hydrogen atom (the simplest of all
atoms) began in earnest, at higher and higher resolution. The high
resolution spectra revealed multiple lines, where the theory at the time
predicted that only a single line should appear. The "reasons" for the
multiplets involved corrections for the finite size of the nucleus, rather
than a "point charge" and corrections for Einstein's special theory of
relativity. The quantum mechanical calculation incorporating these
corrections (and some others) correctly predicted the multiple lines. The
electron behaves "as though it were spinning about an axis". The term "spin"
was applied as a metaphor, because the physicists of that era were steeped
in the jargon of Newtonian classical mechanics. The book by P.A.M. Dirac
treated the quantum mechanical in detail. What the "spin" means is that
there are certain solutions to the wave function for the hydrogen atom that
required the introduction of a "new" quantum number, the "spin" quantum
number. This does not mean that the electron is physically spinning about
its own axis of rotation; that choice of terminology is metaphorical. The
experiments of Stern and Gerlach also confirmed the existence of "spin". It
is also interesting that Dirac's treatment of the electron also predicted
the existence of an "anti-electron" -- we now call it a "positron" which is
a twin of the electron with positive charge rather than negative charge. The
correctness of Dirac's treatment is strongly validated by this prediction,
because it was some time before the anti-electron was observed
experimentally. There are several other "corrections" applied to the
hydrogen atom. You can find these discussed on a web site I am sure but I have
not done the search.
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Update: June 2012