The idea of a parallel Universe that runs alongside our own sure is alluring. What is a parallel Universe? It’s a place of alternate realities, where different choices are made and different outcomes persist. It’s part of the “multiverse” where an infinite number of parallel Universes exist in infinite space-time. That’s the theory.
Or is it just some strange ice formations?
A cacophony of articles on the possibility of the discovery of a parallel Universe were published last month in the wake of a New Scientist article that contained some “out there” claims about some scientific research in Antarctica.
Now a new research paper provides a much more down-to-earth explanation for the two recent strange events that occurred in Antarctica—it was compacted snow and, possibly, underground lakes, that caused some unexpected radio pulses to be misinterpreted.
First, let’s examine the event that caused the “panic” about a parallel Universe in the first place. In both 2016 and 2018, high-energy neutrinos appeared to come up out of the Earth of their own accord and head skyward.
The ANtarctic Impulsive Transient Antenna (ANITA) experiment used radio antenna on high altitude balloons above the South Pole to search for the radio pulses of ultra-high-energy cosmic rays and neutrinos coming from space.
High-energy neutrinos are minute particles able to pass through virtually everything—including our planet. Some of them are created by exploding stars and gamma ray bursts. The scientists in Antarctica discovered radio pulses that indicated high-energy neutrinos coming upward out of the ground, which led to various different explanations, including that the pulses were:
- neutrinos that passed through the Earth’s core and then came out of the ground.
- a “fourth neutrino” known as the sterile neutrino—which would be a completely new discovery.
- the result of “dark matter.”
- an unknown frontier of particle physics and astrophysics.
The out-there parallel Universe theory comes from the absence of a good explanation. That’s partly because a check on ANITA’s results were carried out by the IceCube neutrino detector in Antarctica; it found nothing.
Cue the possibility of a parallel Universe because maybe, just maybe, something “exotic” is going on. Since the high-energy neutrinos were detected coming “up” from the Earth instead of “down” from space they may be traveling back in time and, therefore, could from a—you guessed it—parallel Universe. The Big Bang occurred, it formed two Universes; one that flows forward, the other in reverse.
A theory with zero evidence.
The new paper—published today in the journal Annals of Glaciology—thinks that the pulses were:
- reflections off strange ice formations
Specifically, unflipped reflections of ultra-high-energy cosmic rays that arrive from space, miss the top layer of ice, then enter the ground to strike deep, compacted snow.
In short, the culprit could be firn under the surface of the ice. “Firn is something between snow and glacial ice,” said lead author Ian Shoemaker, an assistant professor in the Department of Physics and the Center for Neutrino Physics, both part of the Virginia Tech College of Science. “It’s compacted snow that’s not quite dense enough to be ice.” Classified as crystalline or granular snow, it’s often found on the upper part of a glacier.
“When cosmic rays, or neutrinos, go through ice at very high energies, they scatter on materials inside the ice, on protons and electrons, and they can make a burst of radio, a big nice radio signal that scientists can see,” said Shoemaker. Cosmic rays are high-energy protons and atomic nuclei that move through space at nearly the speed of light. “The problem is that these signals have the radio pulse characteristic of a neutrino, but appear to be traversing vastly more than is possible given known physics.”
“Our idea is that part of the radio pulse from a cosmic ray can get deep into the ice before reflecting, so you can have the reflection without the phase flip. Without flipping the wave, in that case, it really looks like a neutrino.”
Ordinary neutrinos just don’t do that, but cosmic rays at these energies are common.
However, it’s not quite as simple as all that. “You can have density inversions, with ranges where you go from high density back to low density, and those crucial sorts of interfaces where this reflection can happen and could explain these events,” said Shoemaker.
That doesn’t mean that the scientists in Antarctica found nothing of interest. “Whatever ANITA has found, it is very interesting, but it may not be a Nobel Prize-winning particle physics discovery,” said Shoemaker, who thinks the scientists may nevertheless have found something interesting about glaciology. “It could be that ANITA discovered some unusual small glacial lakes,” he added.
It’s not known how many deep underground lakes there are under Antarctica; if, it turn out, there are lots, this discovery would be a big win for scientists.
So Shoemaker is proposing that instead of looking for high-energy neutrinos, his team will purposefully blast radio signals into the areas where the anomalies occurred to look for lakes.
It’s a plan that itself seems to have come straight from a parallel Universe, but that’s science for you.
Wishing you clear skies and wide eyes.
I’m an experienced science, technology and travel journalist interested in space exploration, moon-gazing, exploring the night sky, solar and lunar eclipses, astro-travel, wildlife conservation and nature. I’m the editor ofand the author of “A Stargazing Program for Beginners: A Pocket Field Guide” (Springer, 2015), as well as many eclipse-chasing guides.