back to article Neutron star crash in a galaxy far, far... far away spews 'faster than light' radio signal jets at Earth

A recently observed neutron star collision was so violent it sprayed jets of radio signals that appeared to travel faster than light, it has just emerged. The cosmic prang – logged as GW170817 after the resulting gravitational wave detected in mid-2017 – involved two neutron stars running into one another in NGC 4993, a galaxy …

  1. Kev99

    Is it possible that Einstein's theory on the speed of light is just that - a theory. People used to believe the speed of sound was impenetrable and that a human could not survice travling faster than sixty miles an hour.

    1. jemmyww

      theory

      Yes, it is a theory - an explanation that has been repeatedly tested and so far not falsified. You mean hypothesis, and no it's not just that, it has been rigourously tested. It's unlikely to be complete, as we know it doesn't explain everything at every level. But C being relative and the max seems pretty solid.

      A future new theory is likely to expand upon it rather than replace it completely.

      1. Nick Kew

        Re: theory

        Yes, it is a theory - an explanation that has been repeatedly tested and so far not falsified.

        What do we do if and when it is falsified?

        Or, more to the point, if an observation appears to falsify it, and cannot be explained away?

        What we should do: rigorously analyse and test the observation and the theory, without prejudice to either.

        What we do tend to do (and get funding for): test only the hypothesis that the observation is somehow wrong. And sometimes get into very dodgy science by proposing - say - a whole new particle to explain it.

        1. Justicesays
          WTF?

          Re: theory

          "What we do tend to do (and get funding for): test only the hypothesis that the observation is somehow wrong. And sometimes get into very dodgy science by proposing - say - a whole new particle to explain it."

          So, erm, your complaint is that either they rigorously try to eliminate any source of error with the observation OR that they then attempt to update their theories (by "inventing new particles")?

          So I assume your suggestion is that if some observation is seen that doesn't agree with the theory we should redo all the observations we have previously done that did agree just to make sure they still agree?

          Pretty sure that probably isn't worthwhile until you are really, really sure the observation that didn't agree with the theory is likely accurate. And then you would be better off trying to replicate that observation (that doesn't agree), and drawing up new theories based on it that make predictions about further observations you can make/test that would disagree with the old theory but agree with your new one.

          Once the theory is proven incorrect, then it's definitely going to see some action around finding out where/why it fails, but that isn't going to happen until it's really, really sure it's wrong.

          Relativity is constantly being used/tested,( in GPS for instance), which shows it's reliable enough that any issues with it are going to be down to some edge case or on some scale beyond the everyday (tiny/massive distances)

        2. Nano nano

          Re: theory

          The kind of "wrong" that would be involved here, would be special cases where it does not hold, not that it was just blanket "false".

    2. Nick Kew

      Relativity is just that: a mathematical model of the physical world. It works - as did Newton's laws before it - because it fits a lot of observational data. It also has problematic aspects: one might, for example, look at some of the problems "solved" by Dark Matter and antimatter, and compare those to past generations' elaborate explanations of planetary orbits in a geocentric universe.

      As with any mathematical model, a key point is that it's not unique. As Euclid observed of parallel lines, we can't see if something different happens at infinity, and whatever happens doesn't invalidate what we can see in the known universe. An alternative model in which the speed of light is neither a constant nor a limit could undoubtedly be posited. The hard bit is matching a model with the real world, but that's something we've never more than partially accomplished with any model.

      1. amanfromMars 1 Silver badge

        EveryBeing's world is different and unique* ... and impossible to deny?

        The hard bit is matching a model with the real world, .... Nick Kew

        The real world according to whom, NK? Garp/DARPA? Us/them? Ergo 'tis a Virtualised Space Place of Infinite Variety and ESPecial Wonders?

        *fundamentally similar and massively varied and variable.

        Whose world views do you follow and believe without the burden of proof and evidence? The ravings and ranting of Maybots/BBC Apparatchiks/New World Order Programs?

        1. amanfromMars 1 Silver badge

          Re: EveryBeing's world is different and unique* ... and impossible to deny?

          And here be evidence of such persecution for the prosecution? ..... https://www.rt.com/news/437721-abby-martin-telesur-sanctions/

      2. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

        As with any mathematical model, a key point is that it's not unique

        Actually it's pretty much unique.

        Can't find the paper now, but you either have Newton/Galileo (infinite max speed) or Special Relativity (less than infinite max speed), with exactly the Lorentz Contractions observed to make the math consistent under assumption of observer independence.

        1. Alan Johnson

          Relativity is unique and solid

          Yes given some sensible symmetry assumptions (the laws of physics are time, location and velocity independant). You either end up with Galilean relativity or special relativity. There is a derivation of this in 'Wolfgang Rindler; Essential Relativity: Special, General and Cosmological'. I think he also describes this as being shown by an earlier authour but I read this book when it first came out and it is a long time ago now. Not only theoretically but observationally there is a massive weight of evidence for special relativity.

          It would be very very surprising if future physics was not locally minkowskian at least on time and distance scales which are observable.

        2. Jaybus

          "...you either have Newton/Galileo (infinite max speed) or Special Relativity (less than infinite max speed)"

          There is also a third, Magueijo-Afshordi. postulating that there is a max speed (Special Relativity), but that max speed has not always been the same, in particular that C was much faster just after the Big Bang than it is now.

      3. Pseudonymous Howard

        Just a side note

        Please don't mix up Dark Matter and antimatter. The latter is real, it can be measured and it can be created - both has been done several times already. The reason why we do not have antimatter power generators is, that the creation of several anti-atoms takes huge amounts of energy, much more than one could gain by letting the antimatter react with matter. Antimatter is just an atom, whose core contains the electrons while the orbits are filled with protons - in "normal" matter it is the other way around. The only mystery around antimatter is the question, why there was no equal distribution of both types of matter after the Big Bang. But we are lucky, that we have to solve this riddle, because if there would have been such an equal distribution, there would be no more matter left to riddle about.

        Dark Matter on the other hand is currently just a place holder for something yet unknown. It could turn out to be many different phenomenons or maybe it is (whatever it is) so far beyond our reach that we will never know.

        1. petef

          Re: Just a side note

          Not quite. Antimatter has antiprotons and antineutrons at its core with positrons (antielectrons) orbiting (in the Bohr view).

        2. Cuddles Silver badge

          Re: Just a side note

          "Antimatter is just an atom, whose core contains the electrons while the orbits are filled with protons - in "normal" matter it is the other way around."

          Not even close. Antimatter is an entire second set of fundamental particles that are the "opposite" of regular matter, and which annihilate with each other when they come into contact. It has absolutely nothing to do with atoms - a positron is the antimatter counterpart to an electron regardless of whether either is part of an atom or travelling freely. There is no such thing as an atom with a nucleus made of electrons; nuclei are held together by the strong nuclear force, which does not affect electrons.

          "Dark Matter on the other hand is currently just a place holder for something yet unknown."

          Better, but still not really correct. Dark matter is a placeholder name for something that behaves in every respect exactly the same as matter that we happen to be unable to see. Various other phenomena have been proposed, but not a single one can actually match all the observations. Given our track record of discovering new kinds of matter that weren't previously suspected to exist (ie. literally all of them), the idea that there's at least one more kind really isn't as outlandish as some people seem to think.

          "maybe it is (whatever it is) so far beyond our reach that we will never know."

          Utter nonsense. If it has any measurable effects, it can be studied and figured out. Throwing up your hands and deciding it's too difficult is for religion and philosophy, not science.

          1. Ian Johnston

            Re: Just a side note

            Utter nonsense. If it has any measurable effects, it can be studied and figured out. Throwing up your hands and deciding it's too difficult is for religion and philosophy, not science.

            Only if you assume that the human brain is capable of understanding everything. That's a very anthropocentric view - it's entirely possible that some things will just turn out to be too hard. A bit like trying to teach string theory to a chimpanzee.

        3. IanRS

          Re: Just a side note

          "Antimatter is just an atom, whose core contains the electrons while the orbits are filled with protons - in "normal" matter it is the other way around."

          No it isn't. It really isn't. An anti-matter is made of of anti-protons and anti-neutrons, surrounded by anti-electrons (positrons). It is not just a normal atom flipped inside-out.

        4. Geekpride
          FAIL

          Re: Just a side note

          Science fail alert! Antimatter is not "just an atom, whose core contains the electrons while the orbits are filled with protons". In an atom of antimatter, the nucleus would contain antiprotons, orbited by positrons.

        5. Ian Johnston

          Re: Just a side note

          Antimatter is just an atom, whose core contains the electrons while the orbits are filled with protons - in "normal" matter it is the other way around.

          Antimatter has a nucleus comprising antiprotons and antineutrons, with positrons (aka antielectrons) orbiting it.

          1. onefang
            Coat

            Re: Just a side note

            Just to add to everyone correcting you about what antimatter is, antimatter is really just something that doesn't matter. Can anything move faster than light speed, is a matter that is important. How long the fingernail on my left pinkie is, is an antimatter that isn't important.

            The exact shade of green my coat is, is also antimatter, but I'll get it anyway.

        6. This post has been deleted by its author

        7. Rol Silver badge

          Re: Just a side note

          Antimatter, as you describe it, exists only in the laboratory.

          The universe has an equal mass of antimatter to matter, it's just that antimatter still exists in the same state as it was created in the big bang. Its gravitational influence is negative, anti-gravity if you like, and this has kept it in its most fundamental form, very small, sparsely spread and practically undetectable, as on the rare occasions it does have the misfortune to have not gotten out of the way quick enough, its energy release is minuscule and far beyond our ability to measure.

          Intergalactic space and indeed any sparsely populated zone, has a 3 dimensional lattice of antimatter particles, each pushing away at its neighbour, and collectively herding matter back into the galaxies.

          That's why the orbits of stars on the outer rim of a galaxy appear to be going too slow for their location and that's why low density galaxies appear to be getting along just fine without dark matter ( antimatter within the galaxy's massive voids is cancelling the external influence)

          And that's also why our universe seems to be expanding faster.

          Three things that dark matter fails miserably to explain as the influence of dark matter would produce exactly the opposite of what we see.

          Measure the velocity of a rogue star, and trace it back to its originating galaxy. You will see that the star is travelling too slow to ever have left the influence of its birthplace, and the reason is that antimatter has been retarding its progress from the very start, above and beyond the influence of normal gravity.

          Unfortunately measuring antimatter's anti-gravity properties are slightly beyond our means, as our proximity to huge gravitational influences makes a mockery of our measuring equipment.

          1. Rol Silver badge

            Re: Just a side note

            And to get back to the subject of particles appearing to travel faster than light, I would like to proffer a little thought.

            If by using all of the dimensions we know about, we still can't explain the why and how, then we can only conclude we're a dimension or two short in our toolbox.

            Einstein's theories have been proven time and again, except in extreme circumstances, where it seems, rational thinking scientists are quite happy to accept those extremes are just weird and somehow beyond the rationale that everything else obeys to the letter.

            Could it be that particles with super high energies pass into another dimension. A dimension where time is disconnected from our time.

            i.e. the jets coming from the neutron star collision are unarguably high energy, or should I say were. They passed into the other dimension due to their energy level and traversed it until that energy dispersed, where they then dropped back into normal space. From the perspective of the jet, nothing unusual happened, it travelled along at sub speed of light for the entirety of its journey to Earth. An onlooker would however have seen the super high energy jet disappear and then instantly reappear some distance on with an apparent huge energy loss.

            So, by just fathoming another dimension we can readily explain the how and why of many things that have plagued the minds of scientists for generations.

            Inflation theory for one would be helped along with this new dimension, and dare I say quantum mechanics, where electrons pass through a barrier by entering a dimension where the barrier doesn't exist.

            1. Toni the terrible
              Happy

              Re: Just a side note

              I dont know this is relevant but something like this has been used in some Science Fiction as a mechanism for FTL travel, with extras to reduce the power required to access the 'other' dimension

          2. Tessier-Ashpool

            Re: Just a side note

            @Rol, there is not an equal amount of matter and antimatter in the universe. The massive imbalance is one of the great puzzles in physics.

            Any stray antimatter whizzing around the cosmos would give off characteristic radiation if it encountered matter. We don't see it.

          3. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

            Re: Just a side note

            The universe has an equal mass of antimatter to matter, it's just that antimatter still exists in the same state as it was created in the big bang. Its gravitational influence is negative, anti-gravity if you like, and this has kept it in its most fundamental form, very small, sparsely spread and practically undetectable, as on the rare occasions it does have the misfortune to have not gotten out of the way quick enough, its energy release is minuscule and far beyond our ability to measure.

            Nice unaccepted personal theory, bro.

          4. DiViDeD Silver badge

            Re: Just a side note

            "The universe has an equal mass of antimatter to matter..."

            Nice story bro. Needs more dragons though.

            1. onefang

              Re: Just a side note

              "Nice story bro. Needs more dragons though."

              I live in a country where old maps used to say "Here be dragons", it doesn't say that anymore, but we still have water dragons (a local medium sized lizard that likes living near Brisbane River), and flame trees (a local medium sized tree with red leaves). If the lizards start eating the trees, we might be in trouble.

        8. The Nazz Silver badge

          Dark Matter aka what the ***k do i know.

          Here's my theory :

          The missing Dark Matter is the *shell* of the universe holding everything else in place. Elastic of course, like a balloon. And possibly quite thick too if the oft mentioned figures of missing mass are to be believed. Though i haven't yet calculated the outer surface area of this shell, so it may not need to be so thick after all.

          tbf, can we, the boffins, eggheads etc, actually see to the very edge yet?

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Dark Matter aka what the ***k do i know.

            No, and we will never be able to. With the universe expanding as it is, objects will get further and further apart. This means in 10 million years, we will be able to see much less of the universe than we can now. Eventually, we'll see nothing beyond our own solar system, at least if you ascribe to the idea of the 'heat death' or 'deep freeze' of the universe due to continuous expansion.

        9. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Just a side note

          no - not exactly...

          A bit of anti-matter reverses the CHARGE of the particles, but not the position/placement.

          a standard atom of matter consists of (at least 1 of the following):

          - zero or more Electrons (negatively charged elementary particle), 'orbiting' the central core of the atom.

          - 1 or more Protons (a not elementary particle with a positive charge), residing in the 'core' of the atom.

          - zero or more Neutrons (a Not elementary particle with no charge, residing in the 'core' of the atom.

          a standard atom of anti-matter consists of (at least 1 of the following):

          - zero or more Positrons (positively charged elementary particle), 'orbiting' the central core of the atom.

          - 1 or more Anti-Protons (a not elementary particle with a Negative charge), residing in the 'core' of the atom.

          - zero or more Anti-Neutrons (a Not elementary particle with no charge, residing in the 'core' of the atom.

        10. Tannin

          Re: Just a side note

          Please don't mix up Dark Matter and antimatter. The latter is real, it can be measured and it can be created - both has been done several times already.

          So far so good.

          Antimatter is just an atom, whose core contains the electrons while the orbits are filled with protons - in "normal" matter it is the other way around.

          Not even close. Antimatter is made up of particles the same as those making up normal matter but with reversed charges. Insted of protons, neutrons in the core, plus associated electrons, you have antiprotons and antineutrons, plus positrons.

          Dark Matter on the other hand is currently just a place holder for something yet unknown. It could turn out to be many different phenomenons

          Just so. But ...

          Phenomena: plural

          Phenomenon: singular

          Phenomenons: not a word at all. You may be thinking of "pheremones" (which, among other things, are said to make people randy) or "phenomenal melons" (which apparently do the same thing).

    3. CAPS LOCK Silver badge

      Einstein you say. I think you mean...

      ...James Clerk Maxwell: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_Clerk_Maxwell

      1. steelpillow Silver badge

        Re: Einstein you say. I think you mean...

        Maxwell calculated the speed of light in classical or Newtonian space. Michelson and Morley's measurements revealed that this speed appeared constant in all directions, showing that either the Earth stood still in space or something very weird was going on.

        Einstein made a key advance in theorising that this constancy was relative and not absolute, and a second key advance in theorising that nothing else could go faster either. But because nobody could back that up with experimental data for decades, he won his Nobel prize for his work on quantum theory. One smart cookie.

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      >Is it possible that Einstein's theory on the speed of light is just that - a theory. People used to believe the speed of sound was impenetrable and that a human could not survice travling faster than sixty miles an hour.

      One of the things people keep forgetting (or ignoring) in these discussions is the medium through which the light is travelling. We know the speed of light in a vacuum, we know it slows down in denser media - and this can be observed through refraction in rainbows, etc. But could there potentially be a medium that increases the speed of light? - Maybe it is the defining property of "Dark Matter" :)

      1. Andy The Hat Silver badge

        But could there potentially be a medium that increases the speed of light? - Maybe it is the defining property of "Dark Matter" :)

        Nope. It has been shown that dark matter doesn't interact with the electromagnetic spectrum. I do not believe the is any current theory that allows c as a fundamental limit to be broken.

        I note that in this whole discussion thread that "super-luminal" velocity as we understand it has been avoided, I suspect that's mainly because even a partial explanation would make your brain hurt (it did mine!) Although not quite the same but far more approachable, Cherenkov radiation (seen as the funky blue glow in nuclear storage ponds) can be considered the result of superluminal particles ... which *do not* travel faster than light but travel faster than light *in that medium*. c, the speed of light in a vacuum is a constant and an ultimate limit in any frame of reference. The speed of light at any point in spacetime is variable and only has an upper bound of c.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          "It has been shown that dark matter doesn't interact with the electromagnetic spectrum."

          It's tautological, it is called dark matter because it doesn't interact with EM waves (which include light).

          1. Jaybus

            Re: "It has been shown that dark matter doesn't interact with the electromagnetic spectrum."

            Empty space doesn't interact with EM either, yet there is a constant max speed through a vacuum. Until some means of finding dark matter exists, how can we measure the speed of light through it?

    5. David Nash Silver badge
      Facepalm

      Theory in this context does not mean hypothesis.

    6. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge
      Pint

      Meanwhile in the Real World:

      Inventive Alternatives to General Relativity getting removed from premises by new data:

      April 30, 2018: Troubled Times for Alternatives to Einstein’s Theory of Gravity: New observations of extreme astrophysical systems have “brutally and pitilessly murdered” attempts to replace Einstein’s general theory of relativity.

      Zumalacárregui, a theoretical physicist at the Berkeley Center for Cosmological Physics, had been studying how the discovery of a neutron-star collision would affect so-called “alternative” theories of gravity. These theories attempt to overcome what many researchers consider to be two enormous problems with our understanding of the universe. Observations going back decades have shown that the universe appears to be filled with unseen particles — dark matter — as well as an anti-gravitational force called dark energy. Alternative theories of gravity attempt to eliminate the need for these phantasms by modifying the force of gravity in such a way that it properly describes all known observations — no dark stuff required.

      At the meeting, Zumalacárregui joked to his audience about the perils of combining science and Twitter, and then explained what the consequences would be if the rumors were true. Many researchers knew that the merger would be a big deal, but a lot of them simply “hadn’t understood their theories were on the brink of demise,” he later wrote in an email. In Saclay, he read them the last rites. “That conference was like a funeral where we were breaking the news to some attendees.”

    7. JLV Silver badge

      Before you go all "clever" shooting down relativity because of this article (which starts out by saying it's an illusion), this Youtube explains this type of illusion. It's not hard to follow, though the exact mechanism in this instance is going to be different than that in the video (the presenter says there are different classes of superluminal phenomena).

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?reload=9&v=IsEDigUHsOQ

  2. 89724102172714182892114I7551670349743096734346773478647892349863592355648544996312855148587659264921 Bronze badge

    Violent jets from Uranus expands a black hole

    1. Little Mouse

      What is it with your bottom-fixation?

      1. Spherical Cow Bronze badge

        quark joke

        It is certainly a strange-fixation.

        1. onefang

          Re: quark joke

          That pun is off-color.

  3. Winkypop Silver badge
    Alert

    Wow, that's quite a cosmic prang

    Imagine the tail back and number of traffic cones around that one.

    1. DJV Silver badge

      Re: Wow, that's quite a cosmic prang

      And the traffic cop tut-tutting and making little notes in his notebook. "Exceeding the speed of light, eh? Tsk, tsk, that'll cost you a few points on yer license... unless, of course, you might be thinking of buying a few tickets to the policeman's ball - oh look, I just happen to have a few spare tickets in me pocket here. Put you down for a couple o' dozen, shall I?"

      1. quxinot Silver badge
        Happy

        Re: Wow, that's quite a cosmic prang

        >... unless, of course, you might be thinking of buying a few tickets to the policeman's ball - oh look, I just happen to have a few spare tickets in me pocket here. Put you down for a couple o' dozen, shall I?"<

        That's a myth.

        Policemen don't have balls.

      2. The Nazz Silver badge

        Re: Policeman's ball

        Last time i was asked, i bought six tickets.

        Then i immediately asked when he was having the castration.

  4. MT Field

    Doesn't really make sense to me.

    That collision, I thought, resulted in a bigger neutron star and not a black hole, according to the observation I seem to recall.

    And even if it did somehow turn into a black hole after some time, how can that effect the gravity field of the new object at a distance?

    I believe at best these are separate events that just happened in the same area of the sky at similar times from our point of observation.

    1. MT Field
      Thumb Down

      And that's why I don't bother with these comments sections any more.

      So I have concerns about the research or about how it was reported. For this I get two thumbs down (so far) but no counter argument, no explanation. All we get is childish comments and ignorant rubbish about relativity.

      1. cray74

        Re: And that's why I don't bother with these comments sections any more.

        So I have concerns about the research or about how it was reported.

        It usually helps to provide a link if there's a factual error in the article. If your objection is to how the article's reported then it's more constructive to use the link in every Register article ("tips and corrections") that lets you inform the writer because they don't always check the comments section.

        But, to give you a response on your concerns:

        That collision, I thought, resulted in a bigger neutron star and not a black hole, according to the observation I seem to recall.

        Current speculation is that a black hole resulted, though there are disputes because it'd be the lightest black hole yet found.

        And even if it did somehow turn into a black hole after some time, how can that effect the gravity field of the new object at a distance?

        I don't follow the question because the new object IS the black hole. The gravity field effects happened prior to the collision in that the two spiraling neutron stars shed orbital energy by radiating gravity waves. This loss of energy eventually caused the neutron stars to collide, spew gold everywhere, and collapse into a black hole or larger neutron star.

        Afterwards, all the exciting effects are from conventional gamma ray and radio wave emissions from the resulting accretion disk, which is the topic of this article.

        I believe at best these are separate events that just happened in the same area of the sky at similar times from our point of observation.

        Three events that behaved as if they're related? Observations show neutron stars radiating gravity waves spotted by LIGO, followed the gamma ray burst consistent with neutron stars colliding, followed by radio emissions of an accretion disk from the debris cloud - that's rather consistent with a single event, not several related observations happening in the same space.

      2. werdsmith Silver badge

        Re: And that's why I don't bother with these comments sections any more.

        MT Field. Worry not about downvotes and upvotes. They matter not. Nor do they antimatter.

    2. Brewster's Angle Grinder Silver badge

      I thought the downvotes were unjustified until I got to the last para. And if you'd phrased that as a question, you'd've probably got away with it; people have itchy trigger fingers in a thread so filled with BS.

      In answer to your first question: a big enough neutron star always becomes a black hole. In fact all matter wants to collapse into a black hole, but there are repulsive forces that stop it: the electric "Coulomb" forces between molecules and atoms are enough to keep you human; in something as massive as a star, the temperature of the plasma pushes back against the collapse, and in a neutron star its the "degeneracy pressure". But if you exceed a critical mass (Tolman–Oppenheimer–Volkoff limit), then even that won't stop it.

      I don't follow what you're asking in the second question. But a change in the position of matter is a change in the gravitational field, and the changing field has its usual affect on remote objects.

      1. MT Field

        My first reading of the El Reg article seemed to be saying that there was a radio emission caused by the collapse of the combined neutron star into a black hole dragging in material from the debris into an accretion disk and thus generating "super fast radio signals". I accept that the article does not in fact say this (at least it doesn't on a second more careful reading).

        But again I find all of this highly questionable. These jets just happen to be pointing towards us? I wonder what the angular resolution of the radio observation is. But I doubt I'll find that out on here.

  5. TiddlyPom

    Relativity - Great! But what about String Theory, Dark Matter and Dark Energy?

    Albert Einstein's theories have been tested thousands of times and seem to be solid. The problem that I have with physics on a large scale (and cosmology) are the great cosmic cludges - dark matter and dark energy. They were invented to justify the Stradivarius constants necessary to explain the expansion of the universe. They have never been detected despite a huge number of experiments to somehow explain away their existence. There are other theories that do NOT need dark matter and dark energy but they are (in general) ignored because ... Emperor's New Clothes! Same with String Theory. It can never be proven (experimentally) because strings would be smaller than the Plank Length (and thus can never be seen/resolved). It's a philosophy (or religion if you like). There are alternatives (such as Loop Quantum Gravity or the Electric Universe) but try defying the establishment! Grasshopper, you have much to learn... (and all that)! Maybe relativity works differently on larger scales?

    1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

      Re: Relativity - Great! But what about String Theory, Dark Matter and Dark Energy?

      Your scepticism is duly noted but that's why this project is still ongoing.

    2. Pascal Monett Silver badge

      What's hard about all this is that a) it's hard, and b) we don't have all the answers yet.

      So, like evolution, those who have the least patience and knowledge just want to clear the table and start over.

      Scientists, on the other hand, know that what they do know is pretty solid, it's what they don't know that they want to find out. Clearing the accumulated scientific knowledge base is not going to help.

      The point is : we must let them do their jobs. Time will reveal the answer.

      1. Paul Crawford Silver badge

        And maybe also the answer will reveal time.

        1. Little Mouse

          But which Time will be revealed?

          Lunch Time?

          Chico Time?

          Tiny-tots' tea-time toy-time Time?

          1. Toni the terrible

            Time

            Time is of course an illusion, and doubly so in a bar.

            As the universe is a solid and it is only our perception that makes us think we are moving along timelines.

      2. Ian Johnston

        Scientists, on the other hand, know that what they do know is pretty solid ...

        They always do, when approaching a dead end. That's what the term "paradigm shift" refers to - it's the point when science realises that what it thought was "pretty solid" was actually pretty dodgy.

        It's pretty clear that particle physics is in deep doo-doo at the moment, and all the attempts to explain away problems with dark energy, dark matter and a host of exotic new particles looks very much like the desperate attempts to fix Ptolomeic cosmology with epicycles. Of course epicycles were really just Fourier series in disguise, but a fundamental change was needed to make everything work.

        I strongly suspect that in a hundred years "dark matter" will be filed alongside "phologiston" and "aether".

    3. Cuddles Silver badge

      Re: Relativity - Great! But what about String Theory, Dark Matter and Dark Energy?

      "they have never been detected"

      What exactly do you think "detected" means? Dark matter is theorised to exist because it explains certain observations. In exactly the same manner, electrons are theorised to exist because that explains certain observations. Neither of them can ever be picked up in your hand and looked at with your own eyes, but both absolutely have been detected in any meaningful sense of the word.

      "There are other theories that do NOT need dark matter and dark energy but they are (in general) ignored because ..."

      They're ignored because they don't work. The first and most fundamental hurdle for any new theory to pass is to explain the observations we already have. So far none of the alternative ideas to try to explain dark energy, and even more so dark matter, have managed that.

      "Same with String Theory. It can never be proven (experimentally) because strings would be smaller than the Plank Length (and thus can never be seen/resolved)."

      Again, sheer nonsense. Confirming things in experiments does not mean being able to pick them up and look at them, it simply means that observations agree with the predictions made by a theory. It doesn't matter how small and impossible to directly see something might be, if its existence explains an observation that can't be explained in any other way, then that is evidence for its existence. As it happens, you're actually correct that string theory can't be proven, because there is actually no such thing; string theory (and its replacement M-theory, string theory is obsolete) is actually a large class of theories. You could get evidence for a specific one, or group, but it simply doesn't make sense to talk of proving string theory as a whole.

      "Electric Universe"

      Bwahahahahahaha.

      1. allthecoolshortnamesweretaken

        Re: Electric Universe

        Great band name.

      2. Ian Johnston

        Re: Relativity - Great! But what about String Theory, Dark Matter and Dark Energy?

        Dark matter is theorised to exist because it explains certain observations.

        But it is ONLY hypothesised to exist as an explanation for these observations, What is dark matter? The stuff which explains the rate of expansion of the universe. What explains the rate of expansion of the universe? Dark matter. You could insert "sky pixies" or "demonic possession" and have a similarly precise and circular argument.

        1. David Nash Silver badge

          Re: Relativity - Great! But what about String Theory, Dark Matter and Dark Energy?

          Not quite.

          Plus you have mixed up Dark Matter and Dark Energy.

          Dark Matter explains the behaviour (gravitational) and morphology of the universe and things in it, ie. Galaxies and Galaxy Clusters.

          It is hypothesised because it's the simplest explanation that is consistent with other observations. It's not really a circular argument because the stuff that's hypothesised is "matter that we can't see but which interacts only or mainly via Gravity". Nothing wrong with that. We don't know much else about it but lots of work is ongoing to narrow down the options.

          More complex hypotheses may be possible too but usually it works to go with the simplest one that is consistent.

          Dark Energy on the other hand is much more like the sky pixies you mention. It's a placeholder for an explanation for why the expansion of the universe appears to be increasing.

          If and when someone comes up with a better explanation that is consistent with other observations and theory, then great, it will be replaced or explained in more detail. That doesn't mean we shouldn't have such a word.

          Newtonian Gravity was much the same. What is Gravity? A force that makes things attract each other. Why do things attract each other? Because of Gravity.

        2. Rich 11 Silver badge

          Re: Relativity - Great! But what about String Theory, Dark Matter and Dark Energy?

          What is dark matter? The stuff which explains the rate of expansion of the universe.

          You're really struggling today.

        3. Steve K Silver badge

          Re: Relativity - Great! But what about String Theory, Dark Matter and Dark Energy?

          For those not au fait with some of the concepts here, I'd suggest reading Brian Cox and Jeff Forshaw's book "Universal: A Guide to the Cosmos" as a well-written primer for a non-cosmologist/physicist which leads up to Dark Matter and Dark Energy.

          It assumes nothing and derives everything from maths on the way there.

          Also maybe "The Trouble with Physics" by Lee Smolin (written in 2005, but the History of Science stuff is still fascinating and BOY he doesn't like String Theory!)

          Steve - (A non-physicist/cosmologist)

        4. Cuddles Silver badge

          Re: Relativity - Great! But what about String Theory, Dark Matter and Dark Energy?

          "But it is ONLY hypothesised to exist as an explanation for these observations"

          Well yes, that is how hypotheses work. Would you prefer it was hypothesised to exist for observations we don't actually have, or for ones which it wouldn't explain? That wouldn't make an awful lot of sense. Science really isn't all that complicated. In essence:

          1) Make some observations;

          2) Come up with a hypothesis that can explain them;

          3) Figure out what other consequences said hypothesis might have;

          4) Continue making more observations and checking if they match what's expected.

          That's it. See something, try to explain it, see if that explanation works, GOTO 10. I've never understood why anti-science types constantly complain about things like a hypothesis only being invented to explain some observations we've made. That's the whole bloody point, and is the only vaguely sane way to approach things.

          "What is dark matter? The stuff which explains the rate of expansion of the universe. What explains the rate of expansion of the universe? Dark matter."

          Dark matter has nothing to do with the expansion of the universe*. Dark matter stems from observations that there often appears to be more mass present in some places than we can actually see. Galactic rotation curves are probably the best known observation - stars towards the outer edges of galaxies are almost always seen to be orbiting faster than they would if the stars and gas in the galaxy were the only mass in it. Dark matter isn't some bizarre invention out of thin air, it's just by far the simplest explanation - there appears to be more mass than we can see, therefore there's probably more mass that we can't see. Note that this doesn't even need to get the weirdness of relativity and quantum physics involved; orbits can be largely explained by Newtonian mechanics and observations made using Newtonian telescopes.

          It only starts getting complicated because obviously the first thing everyone thought of was that it was just regular matter that we couldn't see in the form of things like brown dwarves and diffuse gas clouds, but after looking into it it turns out that can't actually explain things (essentially, if it was just lots of little things too faint to see, there would have to be so much that we'd be able to see it). And then as time passed a whole bunch of other, entirely separate, observations were made that not only suggested there was more mass around than we can see, but also tended to agree on how much, where it is, and that ordinary baryonic matter can't be present in the quantities required.

          Which is why we now have more seemingly weird theories about what it could be. No matter what we look at or how we look, we consistently see indications that there's much more mass out in space than we can see directly via the electromagnetic spectrum. It can't be made out of baryonic matter, therefore it must be made of something else. We've ruled out lots of something elses so far, but we're still not sure what it actually is. Hence, dark matter. You certainly could call it sky pixies instead if you liked, but that wouldn't change the observations or the best answers we've come up with to explain them.

          * OK, that's not quite true. One of the many lines of evidence pointing at dark matter is the observation that the rate of expansion of the universe is consistent with there being a lot more matter around than we can see. Dark energy is an entirely separate theory related to acceleration of the rate of expansion, but dark matter is required as well to actually fit the observations.

    4. Charlie Clark Silver badge

      Re: Relativity - Great! But what about String Theory, Dark Matter and Dark Energy?

      They have never been detected

      … the names are perhaps unavoidably misleading but dark stands for undetected. These are conjectures that help us explain the observed rotation of galaxies (dark matter) and expansion of the universe (dark energy). It might be more correct to use unexplained mass and unexplained energy.

      Other hypotheses have been proposed but nothing has so far been validated, largely down to the fact that we don't know what we don't know and, therefore, not how to look for it.

    5. Rol Silver badge

      Re: Relativity - Great! But what about String Theory, Dark Matter and Dark Energy?

      We need a hell of a lot of scientists to shuffle their mortal coil off before we can make any advances in this field.

      It seems fascism didn't get on a U boat to Argentina, but instead donned a lab coat.

      1. Toni the terrible
        Alien

        Re: Relativity - Great! But what about String Theory, Dark Matter and Dark Energy?

        As one scientist observed; When an old and highly regarded scientist says something is probable he/she is almost certainly right; when an old and highly regarded scientist says something is impossible he is almost certainly wrong.

        Sorrry for the errors in my memory of this

  6. Tezfair
    Happy

    Hope it's true

    I have long argued that the speed of light is the fastest thing we currently know of and it is entirely possible that something else could go faster.

    1. ArrZarr Silver badge
      Boffin

      Re: Hope it's true

      According to Einstein's laws, something travelling at the speed of light causes multiple divide by zero errors. The only way for something to go faster than light is for Einstein's laws to have major flaws at near light speed, which are the speeds that the laws were written to formularise (It's not like Newton's laws which worked for the measurable speeds of the day but became less accurate once you started approaching C)

      1. Charlie Clark Silver badge

        Re: Hope it's true

        According to Einstein's laws, something travelling at the speed of light causes multiple divide by zero errors.

        Tachyons might exist.

        e = mc2 resolves fine without divide by zero errors. We just have no idea of what i mass is like but similar equations in other areas of physics: impedance relies on complex numbers.

        1. BoldMan

          Re: Hope it's true

          Relativity is a lot more than just e = mc ** 2 !

        2. 0laf Silver badge

          Re: Hope it's true

          I've read that Einstein's general relativity rules hold up just fine for Tachyons travelling faster than the speed of light. It's the transition from sub-luminal to supra-luminal that presents difficulties. If you start out supra-luminal all is well.

          1. Tannin
            Coat

            Re: Hope it's true

            I've read that Einstein's general relativity rules hold up just fine for Tachyons travelling faster than the speed of light.

            This would be as opposed to tachyons travelling slower than the speed of light then

            Err ...

      2. petef

        Re: Hope it's true

        AIUI special relativity say that objects with non-zero mass cannot attain the speed of light because energy applied to them just makes them heavier. There is nothing to say that objects cannot travel at the speed of light or faster, just that they cannot achieve that state from sub-light speeds.

        1. Little Mouse

          Re: Hope it's true

          "because energy applied to them just makes them heavier"

          Very true, and succinctly explains why objects with mass can never be accelerated past light speed.

          But I do remember reading aeons ago though that, according to the maths anyway, this wouldn't pose a problem to objects already travelling faster than light.

          OK, so I'm nitpicking. But did anything ever come of this line of enquiry? Could such particles exist in the real world?

          1. David Nash Silver badge

            Re: Hope it's true

            "because energy applied to them just makes them heavier"

            Yes, and time slows down. I am fond of the analogy/model where things are always travelling through spacetime, at the speed of light. ie. 1sec/sec for an object at rest in space, is lightspeed in the time dimension.

            The faster you go through the non-time dimensions, the slower you go through time because some of your lightspeed velocity is taken away from the time dimension and used to move you through space.

            When you are going through space at lightspeed, time stops because you've used all your lightspeed for space travel rather than time travel. As I believe is said to be the case for photons.

            Easy to imagine as a 2-dimensional plane with time on one axis and space on the other.

          2. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Hope it's true

            "But I do remember reading aeons ago though that, according to the maths anyway, this wouldn't pose a problem to objects already travelling faster than light."

            Tachyons, which were really a thought experiment.

            The small problem with tachyons is that they are completely undetectable. They have zero mass, zero charge, and cannot interact with anything.

            We also know that they cannot be anything to do with dark matter because they could never clump in galaxies.

            1. ma1010 Silver badge

              Re: Hope it's true

              Well, tachyons are supposed to have mass, except it's an imaginary number since once v is higher than c, you're dealing with the square root of a negative number as mass = "rest" mass divided by sqrt(1- (v^2 / c^2)). The faster a tachyon travels, the less its (imaginary) mass would be.

              But they are certainly undetectable so far as nobody has invented any way to detect them that has indicated they exist. Can't imagine how you could detect such a thing, but some boffin may well figure it out someday.

              1. onefang
                Coat

                Re: Hope it's true

                I think it's typical of an imaginary particle to have imaginary mass.

                I'll get my imaginary coat.

          3. Jaybus

            Re: Hope it's true

            "But I do remember reading aeons ago though that, according to the maths anyway, this wouldn't pose a problem to objects already travelling faster than light."

            The trouble with mathematical models is that we can use them to make predictions only when based on existing observations. For example, the Maxwell-Faraday equation works perfectly well when time is moving in the negative direction, but that doesn't make time travel to the past possible.

      3. Daniel von Asmuth
        Boffin

        Re: Hope it's true

        "According to Einstein's laws, something travelling at the speed of light causes multiple divide by zero errors. "

        Now why didn't they teach us Einstein in Computer Science class. I always wondered where the errors came from.

        Gravity waves travelled at the speed of light for 130 milliion years for earthlings to measure them in 2017. If radio waves emitted by the same cataclysm travelled faster than light, they must have arrived well before that.

    2. Anonymous Cowbard

      Re: Hope it's true

      Bad news.

  7. Bronek Kozicki Silver badge

    Superluminal motion is explained in few sources - basically this is about the jet of matter moving at a speed close to the speed of light towards the observer, and emitting photons at the same time. This means that some photons are emitted from the jet when it is much closer to the observer, but (because of the speed at which the matter emitting the photons moves) they arrive only a short time after the photons emitted at the start the event arrived to the observer.

  8. 0laf Silver badge
    Boffin

    Don't radio waves always move at the speed of light? I'm aware the local speed of light is variable but would the radio waves not always move at that local c?

    therefore 'superfast' radio waves would be a bit of a misnomer?

    1. Ian Johnston

      Don't radio waves always move at the speed of light? I'm aware the local speed of light is variable but would the radio waves not always move at that local c?

      EM radiation, whether light or radio, moves at c / square root of (relative permittivity x relative permeability). However, relative permittivity in particular can be frequency dependent in ionised systems, so you end up with different frequencies travelling at different speeds, in what is called a dispersive medium.

    2. Daniel von Asmuth

      Radio makes waves

      "Don't radio waves always move at the speed of light?" .

      I hear that BBC Radio sometimes moves a little behind the times.

  9. a pressbutton

    Call me old fashioned

    ..But i am pretty newtonian until my chips are about 7nm

  10. Anon
    Mushroom

    Phew!

    We were lucky to be able to observe this event, because if the jet had been pointed much closer to Earth, the gamma ray emissions would have turned the planet into plasma, along with the rest of the solar system.

  11. Angus Cooke
    Big Brother

    .. and another thing...

    Don't forget all that's been discussed so far is in the world visible by humans - we can't quantify, analyse, theorise or calculate anything we can't see. I know a few people have already referred to this but our own view of the world - i.e. 3 dimensions and a 4th we've called time which we know little about is all we have to work with. Sure we can make what we think are reasonable guesses about other bits but that's all they are. We also know enough about our world to realise some things are beyond our comprehension and in our current physical form we can't understand them. So it would very naïve and stupid to think our view of the universe is the definitive one - whatever created this is way beyond our understanding - which you would expect given what a minute part of it we are! Hence a massive sense of insecurity in a lot of people, an overwhelming fear of death and as a result the creation of many different religions to regain mental stability and an ability to cope with life as we know it. I'm not religious, I'm also not afraid of death and I'm fascinated exploring the world we live in and the technical advances we make. That makes life all worthwhile to me and I'm enjoying it while I'm here :-)

    1. Rol Silver badge

      Re: .. and another thing...

      I suppose the definition of dimension really needs to be nailed down.

      I like the idea, that a dimension is what helps to describe what you see and measure.

      If you can't fully describe something using the dimensions on hand, then you need more dimensions.

      Some would have us believe there are ten dimensions, and beyond the first four they get quite strange. Others would readily point to dimensions like magnetism, which in keeping with my view of the subject is a more practical approach, as magnetism cannot be explained using the four dimensions we readily accept.

      It might sound childlike, but frankly if science isn't black and white, it isn't science.

      1. Steve K Silver badge

        Re: .. and another thing...

        It can help to think about additional dimensions as a tiny circle at every point in space/spacetime (start with a 2D grid - it's easier...), with your position around the circumference representing your position in that dimension.

        It is then possible to envisage a situation where this dimension is not necessarily spatial (or visible/navigable), but is a representation of a (scalar) quantity at that point (like an all-pervading field), but potentially detectable.

        The Lee Smolin book I mentioned above gives the above analogy which is quite helpful.

  12. Ima Ballsy
    Holmes

    Urmmmmm ....

    I put instant coffee in a microwave once, and went back in time ,,,,,, so did I go faster than the speed of light ?

    1. Steve K Silver badge

      Re: Urmmmmm ....

      That's nothing. I put a mirror on my photocopier and now I have 2 photocopiers.

  13. mhenriday
    WTF?

    Powerful emissions ?

    Eggheads suggested these powerful emissions go hand in hand with gamma ray bursts typically seen from neutron star mergers.
    «Eggheads» ?!! «Scientists» OK, «boffins» OK, but «eggheads» ? Is the urge to be cute from which Ms Quach obviously suffers the result of original sin, or merely due to writing for the Reg ?...

    Henri

  14. Fred Daggy

    Faster than light.

    Pffff. Faster than light is possible. It's what Dark Matter is/does. We can't see dark matter, because we can't see (detect) anything faster than light.

    Bit of a problem, but it will all sort itself out when someone creates the right experiment to detect it (or has a 'hmmm, that's odd moment').

  15. sitta_europea Bronze badge

    Well all that may be as it may be, but I do find it odd that object that generates the first gravitational wave we ever managed to detect happens to point its poles directly at us.

    Just sayin'.

  16. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Gravity

    Is indeed a b*tch. (apologies to Green Lantern Corps)

    On the flip side, if as I suspect antimatter is by its nature entangled and has been for a very long time then it is possible that it does not (usually) encounter matter most of the time.

    Has anyone considered that if the gravitational field is weakly negative then a lot of it in one place *might* exert a repulsive force but as it is in a very high quantum state like a Rydberg molecule then the radiation could just be below our detection threshold or simply at a very low energy level we have not as yet measured in open space.

    The "low" end of the EM spectrum goes down to fractions of an eV so there are lots of places radiation can hide but not be seen except with very *very* sensitive tools or by an imbalance showing up in other experiments ie at LHC.

    Incidentally science has now determined that antiparticles can be in two places at once (aka double slit experiment) but this is subject to peer review.

    Also the apparent existence of clouds of positrons in thunderstorms cannot be explained using conventional theory: the sort of fields needed are just not consistent with observation.

    It is as yet unexplained.

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