Short answer: no, they have not found a parallel universe in which “time runs backwards”. For scientists, some journalists are to blame for the confusion.
Earlier this week, the story that NASA discovered a “parallel universe” in which “time runs backwards” made headlines around the world. For those who dream of traveling through space-time, this was good news: how about going back to 2019, when the Earth had not yet been affected by Covid-19? Or for the time when the Pyramids in Egypt were being built? Or, how about, go for a ride on a dinosaur?
That would be incredible, however, the news about this “parallel universe” was not entirely true. This whole story is nothing but a huge confusion, and the existence of this other universe is still only a hypothesis.
It all started with a news article (exclusive to subscribers) shared by New Scientist magazine in early April. The article “We may have spotted a parallel universe going backwards in time” reports on the recent findings of a team from NASA studying the data obtained by the Antarctic Impulsive Transient Antenna (ANITA), which is located in Antarctica.
Before we continue to tell the story of the “parallel universe”, we need to explain what was discovered by ANITA – and for that, you need to understand what neutrinos are.
A neutrino is a subatomic particle, like protons and electrons, that has no electrical charge. This prevents it from being repelled or attracted by other particles in nature and makes its interactions with matter very rare and almost undetectable – that’s why it is called “ghost particle”.
However, when neutrinos are produced by explosions in the Universe, they gain a lot of energy and become more likely to interact with matter. Then, if these particles collide with an atom, for example, they produce a “rain” of secondary particles that astronomers can detect.
It was precisely to observe one of these events that ANITA was created in Antarctica. Thanks to the equipment, scientists can detect the collision of the secondary particles against the ice.
Over the years, ANITA has detected several “anomalous” events. According to experts, instead of the high-energy neutrinos arriving from space, they appear to have come from a strange angle, crossing the interior of the Earth, before reaching the detector.
“The unusual ANITA events have been known and discussed since 2016,” said Ron Ekers of Australia’s National Science Agency, in an interview with CNet. “After four years there has been no satisfactory explanation of the anomalous events seen by ANITA so this is very frustrating, especially to those involved.”
One of the teams studying the ANITA data released the results of new observations in an article published in early April in The Astrophysical Journal. In the study, as well as others previously shared, the scientists say that current physics cannot explain the anomalous behavior of neutrinos and that “exotic physics” should perhaps be considered to explain them.
One of the possibilities for explaining the phenomenon detected by ANITA is, in fact, the existence of a “parallel universe” – and that is what the New Scientist reported. According to the report, some scientists propose the existence of an anti-universe dominated by antimatter, which dates back to the time of the Big Bang and whose spatial properties are reversed from those of our Universe.
Most physicists, however, point out that there are dozens of other possible explanations. “We have encountered a small number of anomalies in our data, and once we have exhausted all of the possible explanations within the Standard Model of physics, only then is it time to consider other ideas that push those boundaries,” Peter Gorgam, principal researcher at ANITA, told ScienceAlert. “We are really not there yet, certainly not at the point where parallel universes are necessary!”
So, what made this idea of “parallel universe” spread across the internet? For scientists, some journalists are to blame.
Ibrahim Safa, a physicist who works with ANITA data, spoke on the subject on Twitter:
Peter Gorgam agrees. “In this case, one or more journalists have evidently moved ahead with an article which was not verified, and for reasons which are not clear, have ascribed research and papers to us which we never wrote,” he told ScienceAlert. “This is one of the reasons that scientific advances proceed by a more measured process, through peer review and verification by other investigators.”