CNET: No, NASA didn’t find evidence of a parallel universe where time runs backwards

There’s no mirror universe, sorry.NASA/Hubble

Sorry, you’re stuck with this universe.

Let’s play a game of bad news, good news, bad news.

Bad news first: 2020. Literally all of it. Every second. Every waking moment of 2020. It’s grim, I know. Bushfires, pandemic, murder hornets. When will it end?

But the good news: Apparently, scientists have discovered a parallel universe, just like our own. It’s a little different to ours though. In this mirror world, time runs backward. It’s like a Benjamin Button universe. That means they’re heading back to 2019, the good ol’ days, right?

Well, now more bad news: I’m here to spoil the parallel universe party. Scientists haven’t actually discovered a parallel universe, but you might think they have, based on multiple reports from across the web. 

In the last few days a number of publications have suggested scientists “found evidence” for a parallel universe where time runs backward. These mind-bending articles posit that an experiment in Antarctica detected particles that break the laws of physics. All the reports pull from the same source of information: A pay-walled report by New Scientist on April 8 titled “We may have spotted a parallel universe going backwards in time.”

At the center of the report are findings from the Antarctic Impulsive Transient Antenna or ANITA, an experiment maintained by researchers at NASA. It involves an array of radio antennas attached to a helium balloon which flies over the Antarctic ice sheet at 37,000 meters, almost four times as high as a commercial flight. At such a height, the antennas can “listen” to the cosmos and detect high-energy particles, known as neutrinos, which constantly bombard the planet. 

Video: Black hole seen in real life for the first time

These particles pose no threat to us and pass through most solid objects without anyone even noticing — some estimates suggest 100 trillion neutrinos pass through your body every second! Rarely do they interact with matter. But if they do smash into an atom, they produce a shower of secondary particles we can detect, which allows us to probe where they came from in the universe. ANITA detects neutrinos pinging in from space and colliding with matter in the Antarctic ice sheet.

Over the years, ANITA has detected a handful of “anomalous” events. Instead of the high-energy neutrinos streaming in from space, they seem to have come from a strange angle, through the Earth’s interior, before hitting the detector. These findings can’t be explained by our current understanding of physics — that much is true.

“In such a situation you start exploring even more extreme possibilities,” says Ekers.

There is a really interesting science story here, but it’s not the one you’re being sold. The ANITA experiment is mind-boggling in its own right. It looks for “ghostly” particles that pass through most matter. It has definitely detected something unusual and unexpected. There are plenty of competing theories that aren’t explored in the quick news hits, like the idea the Antarctic ice may itself be giving rise to these anomalous events.

But there’s so much we don’t know about neutrinos that astrophysicists and scientists are still trying to unravel. “We are absolutely sure that there is new physics out there to be found,” says Clancy James, a radio astronomer at Curtin University in Australia. 

Jumping straight to “parallel universes” is a little over-the-top, and there are less extreme theories that could explain what ANITA has detected. More than that, reports regurgitating this theory without thorough examination complicate the public’s relationship with science, which is already on shaky ground thanks to misinformation campaigns around climate change and the coronavirus pandemic

When you see stories like these its good to remember “the Sagan Standard”, an adage uttered by the famed astronomer Carl Sagan. It goes “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.”

At present, we’ve got a great theory but we lack the extraordinary evidence to back it up

What we do have, Ekers says, is “a somewhat cheeky explanation … born out of the frustration of having nothing else that worked.” He says this is “good out-of-the-box thinking” and a “fascinating” idea but not one that should be taken very seriously. 

So, I’m sorry. We didn’t find evidence for a parallel universe. Fortunately, if there is one, then over there this article doesn’t spoil the theory at all! It supports it! So please, direct all your email toward the parallel universe Jackson Ryan. 

No, I won’t be taking questions.