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Parallel universe for now is just (good) science fiction

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Parallel universe for now is just (good) science fiction

Suddenly everyone saying that NASA discovered evidence of a parallel universe in which time moves backwards. And neither is Brazil.

No, folks, NASA didn't do any of that. But the news "balloon over Antarctica in a project led by the University of Hawaii and financed by NASA detects signs of unknown particles, which can point out ways for physics beyond the standard model" is not so funny, right? It turns out that this is the truth. Maybe a little frustrating, but usually the truth is less spectacular than fiction (hint: use this criterion to evaluate the conspiracy theories that circulate around).

We are talking about a finding that is gradually consolidating. The story began in March 2016, with two events detected on the Antarctic soil by an aerial device built with money from the American space agency. It's Anita, the Antarctic Impulsive Transient Antenna, in the English acronym (she doesn't sing or talk about politics with Gabriela Prioli, but flies with a balloon). Destined to detect rays from cosmic space, it picked up two signals that came not from the sky above, but from the ground below.

Nobody was thinking that the Earth would even be sending these signals. In fact, the easiest thing was to imagine that the particles were emitted from space, crossed the entire planet (the ball, not the pizza) and left the other side, where they were detected by Anita (the antenna, not the singer).

As is known, all physical bodies are mostly made up of voids, so it is not unlikely that a tiny particle, in the right conditions, will cross an entire planet and exit at the other end. Low-energy neutrinos, for example, do this for good. The problem is that these particular detections involved an energy level that was too high, incompatible with what would be expected of neutrinos capable of accomplishing the feat.

That's when it starts to get interesting. What could these imps be? The first hypothesis is that they were, of course, a misreading, a false positive (something like a skewed study done with few volunteers in France by a controversial researcher involving chloroquine and covid-19). The best scientific hypothesis to explain something weird, a priori, is always this: there must be something wrong with the experiment itself. It is usually what these things are. We have seen previous examples, such as neutrinos that supposedly walked faster than light in Italy (they didn't, there was a flaw in the experiment) or, to delve deeper into the divide between error and fraud, in cold nuclear fusion studies.

So honest scientists always assume that their experiment is more likely to have a defect, rather than nature actually trying to tell us a new story that contradicts established, tested and retested physics. With Anita's particles, it was no different. It was necessary to hunt for more evidence that the phenomenon was real, and not a mirage.

Well then. It got hot in September 2018, when a group of researchers led by Derek B. Fox, from Pennsylvania State University, added an exciting new chapter to this novel. They found in another database, the IceCube (a neutrino observatory also installed in Antarctica), three other similar events, of particles that instead of reaching the detection tanks from above, came from below.

In addition, the researchers showed conclusively, in the article submitted to the journal Physical Review D, that the detection, taking into account the energy and the exit angle of the by-product of the encounter, ruled out the possibility that it was any of the particles known in the standard model – the “summary” of everything known today about the basic components of nature and their interactions (excluding gravity, still explained by Einstein's general relativity).

Based on quantum mechanics, the standard model is the most successful theory in the history of physics. He received his definitive coronation with the discovery of the Higgs boson, by the LHC (Large Hadron Collider), in 2013, leaving scientists in a state that Rogério Rosenfeld, a researcher at Unesp, defined as PHD, Post-Higgs Depression. This is because, on the one hand, it is known that something is missing from the standard model (dark matter and dark energy are not there, to name two clamorous examples), and on the other hand, it is not known what to do to find the missing pieces.

In this sense, the events detected by Anita and IceCube may be the lifeline for the post-Higgs future. Indeed, after a search of the scientific literature, Derek Fox and his colleagues concluded that the mysterious results are consistent with what would be expected from some theories based on the notion of supersymmetry – the idea that all particles that we know have supersymmetric counterparts, more heavy and at the same time more elusive, which until today have evaded our detections. In the case at hand, the signals detected by Anita and the IceCube resembled a hypothetical supersymmetric particle called stau slepton.

But saying "NASA scientists find evidence of a hypothetical supersymmetric particle called stau slepton" is not going to excite a lot of non-industry people, right? So, at the time, it didn't take the headlines and social media by storm.

Now, how the hell did we get out of this and get to the parallel universe thing? Physicist Peter Gorham, a researcher at the University of Hawaii in Manoa and leader of the collaboration Anita, gave an interview to the British science magazine NewScientist (their Superinteressante) talking about these works. And there he mentions that the craziest hypothesis they could think of to explain the sign would be the existence of a parallel universe, “mirror”, born together with ours, of the same Big Bang, but where the arrow of time points to the side otherwise, from the future to the past.

He does not say that it is the only possible explanation. He does not say it is the most likely. And a colleague of his, Ibrahim Safa, also involved in the research, gave the cue of what we really have here. "We were left with the most exciting or the most tedious possibilities," he said.

At the moment, there is not even a scientific article with the hypothesis of the parallel universe. It is a phrase from an excited researcher, in the middle of an interview, amplified by a flashy title.

Note that physicists are not doing anything wrong. It is their job to conduct experiments that cause current theories to fail and then find new explanations and more comprehensive theories to explain these new phenomena. That’s why they work on things like extra-compact dimensions, tight temporal curves (time travel, for the intimate), superstrings, supersymmetry, models of the Universe with matter, models of the Universe without matter, parity violations that explain why our Universe is made of matter, not antimatter etc. It is through this work of supreme creativity that we will end up finding the most accurate descriptions of the strange world in which we live. Who could imagine a priori that time and space are elastic, that the speed of light is a fundamental limit, that particles can be in several places at the same time? And today we know that all of this is true.

Tomorrow, we may discover that the Universe is even more weird than we thought. But we can affirm with all the letters that, at this moment, NASA did not find evidence of a parallel universe. What she found were some high-energy particles that can cross the planet and that no one knows what they are. There are many candidates, and the parallel universe hypothesis is just the most fantastic (and proportionally most unlikely).

Ah, last complaint: everyone there referring to Stranger Things with its "inverted world". But I bet that physicists borrowed the expression "mirror universe" from Star Trek, portrayed in the saga since 1967. If we're all going to be nerds, let's be root nerds, hey.

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