Faster Than the Speed of Light: New Model Proposes Jets Go Superluminal in Gamma-Ray Bursts

This is an artist’s drawing of a particle jet emanating from a black hole at the center of a blazar. Credit: DESY, Science Communication Lab (used with permission by Astronomy Picture of the Day, which is co-managed by Robert Nemiroff at Michigan Tech).

Astrophysicists Jon Hakkila of the College of Charleston and Robert Nemiroff of the Michigan Technological University have published research indicating that blasts that create gamma-ray bursts may actually exceed the speed of light in surrounding gas clouds, but do so without violating Einstein’s theory of relativity.

Hakkila and Nemiroff propose that such superluminal jets could create the time-reversibility seen in gamma-ray burst light curves. These proposed jets, however, do not violate Einstein’s theory of relativity because they only move faster than light does through the jet medium, not faster than light through a vacuum.

“Standard gamma-ray burst models have neglected time-reversible light curve properties. Superluminal jet motion accounts for these properties while retaining a great many standard model features.” — Jon Hakkila

Hakkila says that a good way to visualize this superluminal motion is to imagine someone on one side of a pond skipping a stone across the water in your direction. The frequently-hopping stone moves through the air between hops faster than the waves it generates move through water. Hakkila says you would see waves created by each skip of the approaching stone in reverse order, with waves from the most recent skip arriving first and those from the initial skip arriving last.

This superluminal blast explanation retains many characteristics of accepted gamma-ray burst jet models, Hakkila says. Nemiroff adds, however, that their proposed scenario involves Cherenkov radiation, a type of light created by superluminal motion that was not previously thought to be important in generating the light curves of gamma-ray bursts.

“Standard gamma-ray burst models have neglected time-reversible light curve properties,” Hakkila says. “Superluminal jet motion accounts for these properties while retaining a great many standard model features.”


This work appears in a recent issue of The Astrophysical Journal.

Reference: “Time-reversed Gamma-Ray Burst Light-curve Characteristics as Transitions between Subluminal and Superluminal Motion” by Jon Hakkila and Robert Nemiroff, 23 September 2019, The Astrophysical Journal.
DOI: 10.3847/1538-4357/ab3bdf

AstronomyAstrophysicsMichigan Technological University
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  • Michael Marko

    Cherenkov radiation. I knew it when i read the headline! When particles exceed The phase velocity of the medium they’re moving through electromagnetic radiation is emitted from the back instead of the front as it is normally. Cherenkov reduction is blue for this reason.

  • Michael Marko

    TYPO Chrenkov radiation, not reduction

  • Francis Jancik

    Since your big mouth about your discovery gets China’s attention, China will use it to destroy USA.

    • Mori

      I don’t believe these things are possible for us to control. So don’t worry about China destroying the USA as they can’t control Gamma Burst Rays.

  • P. Nichols

    I thought gamma Ray’s only occurred when there’s a pulsar?
    Please explain.

  • vitez

    So the black holes absorb light but emit the gamma-ray bursts, and this is all because of time reversal. WOW, what else will science come up with.