"Whatever happened on the front side happened on the back side," said lead author Jon Hakkila of the Department of Physics and Astronomy at the College of Charleston.
Gamma-ray bursts are bright explosions of gamma-ray light from faraway galaxies that send rapid jets of hot, charged plasma zooming through space. These bursts are the strongest and brightest explosions in the universe, shining hundreds of times brighter than a typical supernova and about a million trillion times as bright as the Sun.
First identified in the mid-20th century, gamma-ray bursts continue to puzzle astronomers to this day as they do not brighten and dim in one steady peak as expected. Instead, they flicker in a strangely symmetric pattern and it's still unclear why.
In a previous study, co-author Robert Nemiroff of Michigan Tech found that when an object goes from traveling faster than light to slower than light or vice versa, this transition can trigger an optical phenomenon similar to a gamma-ray burst. Nemiroff and Hakkila posit that whatever's causing gamma-ray bursts may be traveling faster than the light it emits, resulting in a weird emission pattern. While the laws of physics state that nothing can really travel faster than light, the researchers noted that when light travels through matter, such as interstellar gas or a soup of charged particles, it slows down and other matter can overtake it.
To take the theory even further, the pair postulated that the material responsible for gamma-ray bursts may first be traveling slower than the speed of light before accelerating or have started fast before slowing down. In either case, the resulting emission pattern is similar to the symmetric peaks in gamma-ray bursts, according to the researchers.
While the source of gamma-ray bursts is still unclear, Nemiroff and Hakkila noted that their findings could at least provide a clue to the ultimate cause of these brilliant explosions.
Deceased astronomer John A. Ball, who was a longtime scientist and professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said that gamma-ray bursts are powerful enough to carry information. For instance, according to Ball, the bits of information that a mere two-millisecond gamma-ray burst could carry are "comparable to the estimated total information content of Earth's biosystem," including the world population's collective genes, memes, libraries and computer media. (Related: Has the second "alien megastructure" been found?.)
“So far as we know, gamma rays offer the widest practical communications bandwidth in the electro-magnetic spectrum," said Ball a few years before his death. Gamma-ray bursts, he added, are the only feasible way to send large quantities of information over interstellar distances.
What's more, Ball posits that gamma rays may also contain the seeds of life. The messages in gamma-ray bursts, according to Ball, might be spores that thrive and proliferate when they land in a nurturing environment.
“They propagate enormous numbers of spores and expect only a minute percentage to survive," Ball said.
Read more articles about weird cosmic phenomena at Unexplained.news.