Nothing can go faster than light. It is a rule of physics woven into the very fabric of Einstein’s special theory of relativity. The faster something goes, the closer it gets to its perspective of time freezing to a stop.
Go even faster and you’ll run into time reversal problems, messing with notions of causality.
But researchers at the University of Warsaw in Poland and the National University of Singapore have now pushed the limits of relativity to create a system that doesn’t conflict with existing physics, and could even point the way to new theories.
What they have come up with is an “extension of”. special relativity“which combines three temporal dimensions with a single spatial dimension (“1+3 space-time”), as opposed to the three spatial dimensions and one temporal dimension that we are all used to.
Instead of creating major logical inconsistencies, this new study adds more evidence to support the idea that objects could go faster than light without completely breaking our current physical laws.
“There is no fundamental reason why observers moving relative to described physical systems with velocities greater than the speed of light should not be subject to it.” says physicist Andrzej Draganfrom the University of Warsaw in Poland.
This new study is based previous work by some of the same researchers who postulate that superluminal perspectives could help link quantum mechanics with Einstein’s special theory of relativity – two branches of physics that currently cannot be reconciled into a single general theory that describes gravity in the same way that we explain other forces.
Particles can no longer be modeled as point objects under this framework, as we could in the more mundane 3D (plus time) perspective of the Universe.
Instead, to make sense of what observers might see and how a superluminal particle might behave, we would have to turn to the kinds of field theories that underpin quantum physics.
According to this new model, superluminal objects would look like a particle expanding like a bubble through space, not unlike a wave through a field. The high speed object, on the other hand, would “experience” several different timelines.
Even so, the speed of light in a vacuum would remain constant even for observers faster than it, preserving one of Einstein’s fundamental principles, a principle previously only thought of in relation to observers. They were going slower than the speed of light. (like all of us).
“This new definition preserves Einstein’s postulate of the constancy of the speed of light in a vacuum even for superluminal observers.” says dragan.
“So our extended special relativity doesn’t seem like a particularly fanciful idea.”
However, the researchers acknowledge that switching to a 1+3 model of spacetime raises some new questions, while answering others. They suggest that special relativity theory needs to be extended to incorporate faster-than-light frames of reference.
That may well involve borrowing from quantum field theory: a combination of concepts from special relativity, quantum mechanics, and classical field theory (which aims to predict how physical fields will interact with each other).
If the physicists are right, all particles in the Universe would have extraordinary properties in extended special relativity.
One of the questions raised by the research is whether we will ever be able to observe this widespread behavior, but answering that will take much longer and many more scientists.
“The mere experimental discovery of a new fundamental particle is a feat worthy of the Nobel Prize and achievable in a large research team using the latest experimental techniques.” says physicist Krzysztof Turzyńskifrom the University of Warsaw.
“However, we hope to apply our results to a better understanding of the phenomenon of spontaneous symmetry breaking associated with the mass of the Higgs particle and other particles in the standard modelespecially in the early Universe”.
The research has been published in Classical and Quantum Gravity.
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