Photons streaming from gamma-ray bursts have thus far shown no changes in the rotation of their polarity. Such a rotation would indicate a lack of symmetry if time were reversed and particles and anti-particles switched.
Studying three gamma-ray bursts with significantly more precision than ever before, Toma and his team found no change in the polarization of the photons, implying that the symmetry is consistent to at least one part in 10 million. This is a new record in constraining the rules that govern nature, and will influence attempts to create a unified theory.
The research will be published in an upcoming issue of the journal Physical Review Letters.
A powerful source
Gamma-ray bursts are brief spikes that can last from a few seconds to a few minutes. The light from them can travel billions of light-years in the form of streaming high-energy photons that are unable to penetrate Earth's atmosphere.
Emitting as much energy in a few seconds as the sun does in a lifetime, the explosions may come from flare-ups during the formation of a neutron star or black hole — two possible outcomes of star deaths — or the sudden collision of neutron stars. The powerful forces involved in such events accelerate photons almost to the speed of light.
"Gamma-ray bursts have relatively high energies — compared to, say, radio or optical photons — which make them useful probes of the possible quantum structure of space-time," Fox said. He went on to call them "a natural choice as target sources for these tests."
- Top 10 Strangest Things in Space
- Twisted Physics: 7 Mind-Blowing Findings
- Gallery: Experts' Favorite Space Photos
Copyright 2012 SPACE.com, a TechMediaNetwork company. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.