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Paul Sutter is an astrophysicist at The Ohio State University and the chief scientist at COSI science center. Sutter is also host of Ask a Spaceman and Space Radio, and leads AstroTours around the world. Sutter contributed this article to Space.com's Expert Voices: Op-Ed & Insights.
We're used to magnets coming in two side-by-side flavors; north is always paired with south. If you take a magnet and chop it in half, you don't get an isolated north or south pole. Instead, you get two mini-magnets, each sporting its own pair of poles.
Maxwell - Electromagnetism - Theory - Enhancements - Upgrades
But Maxwell's electromagnetism is a classical theory and has been subject to enhancements and upgrades of the quantum variety in the past hundred years, and those upgrades allow for some pretty interesting creatures to roam our cosmos — among them, magnetic monopoles.
To hunt for monopoles, we have to go back to (nearly) the beginning: the earliest moments of the Big Bang itself. In those hot, crazy, frenetic days, the physics of the cosmos were radically different from what they are today. Indeed, the density and temperature of the entire universe was so high that some, if not all, of the fundamental forces of nature were melded together into a unified whole.
Story - Forces - Conditions - Forces - Nature
We don't have nearly the complete story, but we do know that the electromagnetic and weak nuclear forces merge together under the right conditions, leaving only three forces of nature at play: gravity, the strong nuclear force and the "electroweak" force. Go to even higher energies, like those found in the first fraction of a second after the Big Bang, and the strong force joins the unification party, leaving just gravity and what's called a grand unified theory, or GUT.
While we only have hints of what a GUT force would look like and how it would behave, we do have...
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