Nothing can travel faster than light. Such is the law of physics, which is the foundation of Einstein’s special theory of relativity. The faster things go, the closer to the prospect of time freezing.
If you go faster, you run into the problem of time reversal, confusing the concepts of causality.
However, researchers from the University of Warsaw and the National University of Singapore have pushed the limits of relativity to arrive at a system that does not contradict existing physics and may even point the way to new theories.
The result is an “extension of special relativity” that combines three dimensions of time and one dimension of space (1+3 space-time), as opposed to the three dimensions of space and one time that we all use.
Rather than creating any major logical inconsistencies, the new research adds even more evidence to the idea that perhaps objects can travel faster than the speed of light without completely breaking the current laws of physics.
“There is no fundamental reason why observers moving faster than the speed of light relative to the described physical system should not be subject to it,” says Andrzej Dragan, a physicist at the University of Warsaw.
The new study builds on previous work by some members of the same group, which suggested that superluminal perspectives could help bring quantum mechanics and Einstein’s special theory of relativity closer together—two branches of physics that currently cannot be unified into a single comprehensive theory that would describe gravity in the same way we explain other forces.
In this framework, it is no longer possible to model particles as point-like objects, as we can in the more mundane 3D (plus time) perspective of the universe.
Instead, to understand what observers might see and how a superluminal particle might behave, we need to turn to field theories based on quantum physics.
Based on this new model, superluminal objects should look like a particle expanding like a bubble in space, not like a wave in a field. On the other hand, a high-velocity object must “experience” several different timelines.
Even so, the speed of light in a vacuum must remain constant even for observers moving faster than it, which upholds one of Einstein’s fundamental principles—a principle that has so far been considered only in relation to the case where the observer is moving slower than the speed of light (like us).
“This new definition preserves Einstein’s postulate that the speed of light in a vacuum is constant, even with superluminal observers.” So our extended special relativity doesn’t seem like a particularly extravagant idea,” says Dragan.
However, researchers recognize that switching to a 1+3 spacetime model raises some new questions, even as it answers some. They suggest that the model of special relativity needs to be extended to account for faster-than-light frames.
This may 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 interact with each other).
Unless the physicists are mistaken, all particles in the universe in extended special relativity must have extraordinary properties.
One of the questions researchers are asking is whether we will ever be able to observe this extended behavior—but it will take much more time and scientists to answer.
“The simple experimental discovery of a new fundamental particle deserves a Nobel Prize, and it would be possible with a larger group of researchers using the latest experimental methods,” says physicist Krzysztof Turzynski of the University of Warsaw.