Fr.: biréfringence du vide
A highly → magnetized vacuum behaving as a prism for the propagation of light, as predicted by → quantum electrodynamics (QED). Attempts to detect this phenomenon in the laboratory have not yet succeeded in the 80 years since it was predicted (Heisenberg & Euler, 1936, Z. Physik, 98, 714). This effect can be detected only in the presence of enormously strong → magnetic fields, such as those around → neutron stars. Owing to the large inferred magnetic fields (B ~ 1013 G, → gauss), radiation from these sources is expected to be substantially polarized, independently of the mechanism actually responsible for the → thermal emission. The strongest magnetic field so far created in a laboratory is less than 106 G lasting only for several tens of milliseconds. A large observed → polarization degree is, however, expected only if QED polarization effects are present in the magnetized vacuum around the star. The detection of a strongly → linearly polarized signal would therefore provide the observational evidence of QED effects in the strong-field regime. Recently a team of astrophysicists (Mignani et al. 2016, arXiv/1610.08323) have detected → linear polarization toward the neutron star RXJ1856.5-3754 (at a significant degree of around 16%). This finding is likely due to the boosting effect of vacuum birefringence occurring in the area of empty space surrounding the neutron star.