Possible Parallel Universe?
Callum Dinnett reports on a tale of parallel universes (or lack thereof) and how hopes of proving their existence may be being raised too soon
In the middle of May, outlets including the New York Post and the Daily Star reported that NASA scientists had found “evidence of a parallel-universe where time runs backward”. They reported that a team in Antarctica detected particles called tau neutrinos coming up out of the earth. It was implied that they were travelling backwards in time because such high energy particles are usually only detected coming down from space. Both the aforementioned outlets cite Peter Gorham, the principal investigator for NASA’s Antarctic Impulsive Transient Antenna (ANITA), as their source. While according to the Daily Star Gorham did hypothesise that the particle may have changed into a different type of particle, before then passing through Earth and changing back, he also noted that this theory was a bit far-fetched. Gorham, who is also the Professor of Physics at the University of Hawaii, has since said the ANITA research team “had nothing to do with the development of the parallel-universe idea.”.
Unfortunately for sci-fi and fantasy nerds alike, the truth is the parallel-universe theory is far less certain than headlines suggest. According to the Independent, reports of this temporally backwards universe all stem from an article published in New Scientist in April, itself reporting on a paper by the ANITA team which was published back in 2016. Although the basis of the article is true (the team did report four events of neutrinos seemingly coming from within the earth, a phenomenon unexplained by our current understanding of physics) this does not prove the existence of a parallel-universe, it only establishes that the particles in question are different from the current Standard Model.
this does not prove the existence of a parallel-universe, it only establishes that the particles in question are different from the current Standard Model.
So, how did the possibility of a parallel-universe spring up? In this particular instance it has been suggested that a paper published speculating in response to the ANITA paper may be responsible. This paper, by a team independent of NASA, hypothesised that the anomalous recordings from ANITA were evidence of a CPT symmetric universe, where an antimatter version of the universe existed before the big bang. This is a highly complex area of theoretical astrophysics, which leads us onto a more pertinent reason behind how this parallel-universe story gained as much traction as it did.
The reason behind the reporting can seem simple at first glance: those reporting are themselves not experts in the subject matter. This, on top of the appeal of sensationalised titles to be used for clickbait, means scientific reports sometimes get misunderstood and misreported. Articles that misrepresent findings are bound to always exist, making it crucial to follow up on any information you may think is too good to be true. It never hurts to double check, so make sure what you’re seeing is the full, but not exaggerated, truth.