Imagine a parallel universe where time runs backwards. Freaky, right? Dozens of tabloids and blogs reported that NASA had discovered just such a place, but the truth is more complicated.
Per usual, the headlines only hint at the real research behind the work published by NASA researchers. In fact, the lead author of the research paper, Ibrahim Safa, tweeted, “NASA has discovered that y’all should not be getting your news from the new york post.”
That’s a sick burn–especially from someone who just spent a good chunk of his life studying cosmic rays in Antarctica. But not everyone working on the project agrees with him about what they found.
A research team working on ANITA, or the Antarctic Impulsive Transient Antenna, discovered something strange. While using the balloon-based research rig, they encountered “upward-point cosmic ray-like-events.”
Translation? The scientists encountered particles known as neutrinos that were behaving differently than expected. Instead of falling downward toward Earth, they were moving up. Hence the headlines that the laws of physics were somehow inverted.
At the great heights traversed by the ANITA research rig, scientists are able to observe the cosmic radiation bombarding the planet. Neutrinos were created during the Big Bang and flung outwards. They are also forged in the heart of stars during the process of nuclear fusion. With almost no mass, they travel at nearly the speed of light. That makes them very hard to detect–and most scientists will agree that there’s a lot left to learn about these particles.
Ibrahim Safa states on Twitter that “[t]hey were probably a result of our imperfect understanding of the Antarctic ice, but there’s a chance some new physics phenomenon is responsible.”
Researchers with the ANITA team have been reporting strange particle behavior for years in the Antarctic. But one headline from a recent “New Scientist” article spread through the internet without revealing all the facts.
The lure of a parallel universe is strong. We’ve been fascinated with the idea that other worlds, similar to ours yet tantalizingly different, might exist. But are they scientifically possible?
Some scientists argue that a multiverse–a collection of parallel yet distinct universes, like soap bubbles–could exist. Household names like Stephen Hawking and Neil deGrasse Tyson both argued in favor of the theory during their careers. However, an equal number of experts believe that the theory is unsupported by evidence.
One of the more persuasive theories holds that, at the moment of the Big Bang, an equal-but-opposite “anti-universe” was also created. Pretty amazing, right?
In the final published paper before his death, Stephen Hawking described a multiverse in which there are multiple, but not infinite, parallel universes. “We are not down to a single, unique universe, but our findings imply a significant reduction of the multiverse to a much smaller range of possible universes,” he told the “Washington Post” in a follow-up interview in 2018.
The idea that our choices create infinite parallel universes–ones where we turn left instead of right, marry one person instead of another–is likely science fiction. But science fact points to the idea that there is, at minimum, far more to physics than we currently understand.