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 …

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  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 Bronze badge

        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 Bronze badge

      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 Silver badge

            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 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.

          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
      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

      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.

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