[Physics] Is everything made of massless particles


Photons have no mass. Yet they interact gravitationally, as all energy does, with other energetic and massive particles. This means that if you put multiple photons in a system, you get something that appears to have mass, even though none of the constituent particles do have mass.

That makes me wonder:

Is mass really a fundamental part of reality? Couldn't it be that massive particles (protons/neutrons/electrons) are just composed of massless particles like photons knotted up, confined to a small area and whizzing around in very tight orbits? So everything is, in a sense, massless?

The search for and discovery of the Higgs Boson suggests to me, in my limited understanding, that scientists believe mass is a fundamental property that some particles have. And also that mass is fundamentally different than other types of energy (though conversion is possible). Does all of this preclude a system like I describe?

Best Answer

It's certainly possible for a particle's mass to come partially from kinetic energy of massless particles; for example, about half of a proton's mass is the kinetic energy of its gluons. But the kind of mass that fundamental particles have, the kind that comes from the Higgs mechanism, doesn't appear to be of that kind. Maybe someday we will discover that it is. (This would be the case if string theory turns out to be correct, for instance.)

By the way, scientists do not believe that mass is fundamentally different from energy. Mass is just one type of energy.

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