No, NASA has not found a “parallel Universe”.
Update: this article has been updated to include a research paper that details how “time reversal” might work.
The internet has done it again. Today it abounds with stories from tabloids like the New York Post, Express and the Daily Star—mostly quoting each other—that major on claims that NASA scientists have evidence that could prove the existence of parallel universes.
It’s all way overblown and misrepresents what the research in question is about. Scientists actually found evidence of fundamental particles that defy our current understanding of physics. It might even be an issue with how particles interact with ice.
To be clear, there is zero evidence of what the Daily Star says is “a parallel universe, right next to ours, where all the rules of physics seem to be operating in reverse.”
Here’s what Ibrahim Safa of UW–Madison, who was a lead author on a research paper about the experiment in question in Antarctica, thinks about the current spate of “news” stories that associate his research with evidence for a parallel universe:
The many, many articles now online appear to be rooted in a six-week old story published by the New Scientist in which the admittedly alarming headline—We may have spotted a parallel universe going backwards in time—is backed-up by a well-written and thought-provoking article about some puzzling results from studies conducted in Antarctica of cosmic rays (high energy charged particles) arriving from outside Earth’s atmosphere. Along with some far-out “what if” musings about the hard-to-explain origins of these particles. Cue the parallel universe chat.
It’s all related to three scientific papers:
The conclusion is that the Standard Model concerning neutrinos—fundamental particles—doesn’t explain the detection of a rare kind of particle by ANITA.
“ANITA’s events are definitely interesting, but we’re a long ways away from even claiming there’s any new physics, let alone an entire universe,” said Safa.
What is the ANITA?
It’s a stratospheric balloon-based experiment in Antarctica that has a radio antennae pointed back at Earth to detect radio waves emitted by very (and very rare) high-energy neutrinos if they strike an atom in the ice. A radio telescope, ANITA is the first NASA observatory for neutrinos of any kind. Hence the NASA connection.
What did the ANITA find?
In 2016, ANITA detected some signals best described as “anomalous”; evidence of a high-energy particle—extremely high-energy neutrinos—coming up from the Earth’s surface, but no source. That “seemed impossible,” according to the New Scientist article, which went on to state that:
“Explaining this signal requires the existence of a topsy-turvy universe created in the same big bang as our own and existing in parallel with it. In this mirror world, positive is negative, left is right and time runs backwards.”
Perhaps a universe made of antimatter rather than matter.
Or perhaps not.
The press release about the research paper also mentions that “other explanations for the anomalous signals—possibly involving exotic physics—need to be considered.”
Scientists at the IceCube Neutrino Observatory then tried to search for the source of those signals of intense neutrinos.
The IceCube Laboratory at the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station, in Antarctica, hosts the computers … [+]
Felipe Pedreros, IceCube/NSF
What is the IceCube Neutrino Observatory?
Situated near the South Pole, it’s made-up of 5,160 optical detectors buried in the ice that are there to detect neutrinos passing through, and reacting with, hydrogen or oxygen atoms in the ice.
“This process makes IceCube a remarkable tool to follow up the ANITA observations, because for each anomalous event that ANITA detects, IceCube should have detected many, many more—which, in these cases, we didn’t,” said Anastasia Barbano of the University of Geneva in Switzerland. “That means that we can rule out the idea that these events came from some intense point source, because the odds of ANITA seeing an event and IceCube not seeing anything are so slim.”
What did the academic paper conclude?
The results from the check on ANITA detections using IceCube published in the paper concludes with phrases like “inconsistent with a cosmogenic interpretation” and “new physics,” and is summarized thus:
“An astrophysical explanation of these anomalous events under standard model assumptions is severely constrained regardless of source spectrum.”
Correct translation: we don’t yet know where these signals came from.
Incorrect translation: these high-energy neutrinos came from a parallel universe.
Safa then went on to tweet:
He is also quoted as saying that while it has been an exciting time for physicists trying to explain these events, “it looks like we’ll have to wait for the next generation of experiments, which will increase exposure and sensitivity, to get a clear understanding of this anomaly.”
Cue the HiCal 2 radio frequency pulser, which will help the scientists characterize the properties of the Antarctic ice surface to better interpret their results.
So it could all be about ice, not parallel universes. Phew!
Wishing you wide eyes and clear skies.