Two years ago, researchers made the amazing discovery that in some specific instances in space, gamma-ray burst pulses repeated themselves in a way that made it seem as if they were going backwards in time. Astronomers now believe that they might have finally figured out the reason behind the mind-boggling phenomenon: the gamma rays are moving faster than the speed of light.
It had previously been one of the main scientific tenets that nothing could move faster than the speed of light -- in fact, it was widely seen as the speed limit of the universe. However, according to Science Alert, previous research found a loophole in the principle. Scientists realized that when light is traveling through a medium such as gas or plasma, it is slowed down so that it is no longer moving at its top speed of c, or around 3.8 x 10^8 m/s. This means other particles could surpass it, creating a "luminal boom" -- like the sonic boom, but for light.
Researchers at the College of Charleston and the Michigan Technological University made calculations to show that the gamma ray bursts could fall into that faster-than-light category. If these gamma-ray bursts do indeed travel faster than light, one of the results would be "time reversibility."
"In this model an impactor wave in an expanding gamma-ray burst jet accelerates from subluminal to superluminal velocities, or decelerates from superluminal to subluminal velocities," scientists Jon Hakkila and Robert Nemiroff claimed.
"These transitions create both a time-forward and a time-reversed set of [gamma-ray burst] light curve features through the process of relativistic image doubling," the paper added.
However, thoughts of time travel and Back to the Future fantasies are a long way off. Scientists still know little about what gamma rays are, let alone how to use them.
For example, astronomers still don't know exactly what causes the gamma ray bursts. All that is known is that gamma ray bursts are the most "energetic" explosions seen in the universe. They are also seen after massive collisions of neutron stars, and scientists also believe that bursts are produced when a star collapses into a black hole.
Moreover, none of the faster-than-light scenarios have been observed, meaning the idea remains strictly in the realm of theoretical physics.
That said, the scientists behind the paper are hopeful that their new hypothesis will spark more insight into the field.
"Standard gamma-ray burst models have neglected time-reversible light curve properties," Hakkila claimed. "Superluminal jet motion accounts for these properties while retaining a great many standard model features."
In other space news, astronomers remain stunned after recently discovering the biggest explosion since the Big Bang, as was previously covered by The Inquisitr.