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New research offers some indications that the universe is filled with particles adept at traveling faster than lightand that this scenario holds up as a potentially “viable alternative” to our existing cosmological model.The idea is a little bit far-fetched, sure, but it’s worthy of being heard out. These hypothetical particles, termed tachyons, aren’t likely to be real — but they’re definitely not some hokey bit of sci-fi, either. The potential for their presence is something physicists have been giving serious thought for many decades, raising fundamental queries about the nature of causality.

As detailed in a still-to-be-peer-reviewed study, the researchers postulate that tachyons are the building blocks of dark matter, an unobservable — and in spite of being widely considered to exist by scientists, technically hypothetical — substance that is believed to account for about 85 percent of all matter in the cosmos.Because we can only observe dark matter’s substantial gravitational effect, we don’t know what it really is, leaving the door open to all kinds of likelihoods that are worth considering.

Growing Problem

As it turns out, a tachyon-filled universe does quite a great job of explaining the cosmos’s ongoing expansion, according to the researchers.In the standard cosmological model, the presence of so-called dark energy is used to explain the expansion of the cosmos. Also unobservable, dark energy is believed to dwarf even dark matter, accounting for up to 70 percent of the entire cosmos.Without it, the sheer gravity of all the mass in the cosmos would finally slow down its expansion. Instead, researchers have observed the rate of expansion is in fact accelerating — driven by, it’s hypothesized, dark energy.

But if tachyons are real and encompass the cosmos as dark matter, they could also potentially explain this acceleration. The scientists found that, in such a set-up, tachyonic dark matter would initially slow down the universe’s expansion, before reversing and causing it to accelerate like we see now. They call this an “inflected” expansion.

Imperfect Match

So far, their proof to support this comes from observations of Type Ia supernovae in which a dying star collapses and explodes — caused in some types of binary star systems.These distinct supernovae are known as standard candles (cosmic objects with a known luminosity that let astronomers to use as a reference point to calculate distances in space). It was by utilizing Type Ia supernovae as standard candles, actually, that researchers first confirmed that the expansion of the cosmos was accelerating.

When the scientists compared their tachyonic model to sample data from the Type Ia supernovae, they discovered that the two are “comfortably consistent with one another.”Obviously, this is a very limited application of the model. It raises intriguing prospects for follow-up research, sure, but it’s a far cry from proving that tachyons in fact exist. Nevertheless, it shows just how much we have left to learn about the fundamental phenomena that govern the universe.


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