Space-time may be more smooth than foamy, supporting Albert Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity.
NASA’s Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope tracked the paths of three photons at different wavelengths that originated from a gamma-ray burst about 7 billion light-years away and arrived at the telescope a millisecond apart.
In contrast, some theories of quantum gravity depict space-time as a froth of particles and even as black holes shifting in and out of existence over tiny moments at the Planck-length scale: less than a trillionth of a trillionth of a hydrogen atom’s diameter.
These miniature hypothetical “bubbles” would be almost undetectable, but photons from gamma-ray bursts have such short wavelengths that they could interact with them and be scattered as they travel huge distances through space-time, especially if the photons’ wavelengths are different.
“Gamma-ray bursts can tell us some very interesting things about the universe,” said research leader Robert Nemiroff at Michigan Technological University in a press release.
“If foaminess exists at all, we think it must be at a scale far smaller than the Planck length, indicating that other physics might be involved.”
Nemiroff noted that other explanations are possible.
“There is a possibility of a statistical fluke, or that space-time foam interacts with light differently than we imagined,” he said.
The findings were presented at the American Astronomical Society meeting in California.
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