The April 11, 2017 reconstructed image (left) and a modeled EHT image (right) line up remarkably well. This is an excellent indication that the model library the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) collaboration put together can, in fact, model the physics of the matter surrounding these supermassive, rotating, plasma-rich black holes quite successfully. (HUIB JAN VAN LANGEVELDE (EHT DIRECTOR) ON BEHALF OF THE EHT COLLABORATION)

Which ‘Hints’ Of New Physics Should We Be Paying Attention To?

And which ones are probably examples where we’ve fooled ourselves?

Ethan Siegel
10 min readMay 4, 2021

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Every once in a while — multiple times per year — a new research finding fails to line up with our theoretical expectations. In the fields of physics and astronomy, the laws of nature are known to such incredible precision that anything that fails to align with our predictions isn’t just interesting, it’s a potential revolution. On the particle physics side of the equation, we have the laws of the Standard Model governed by quantum field theory; on the astrophysics side, we have the laws of gravity governed by General Relativity.

And yet, from all of our observations and experiments, we occasionally get results that conflict with the combination of those two remarkably successful theories. Either:

  • there’s an error with the experiments or observations,
  • there’s an error with the predictions,
  • there’s a new effect we haven’t anticipated within the Standard Model or General Relativity,
  • or there’s new physics involved.

While it’s tempting to leap to the final possibility, it should be the scientists final resort, as the resiliency and successes of our leading theories has shown they’re not so easy to overturn. Here’s a look at eight potential hints of new physics that have come along with a great deal of hype, but deserve tremendous skepticism.

When two black holes merge, approximately 10% of the smaller one’s mass gets converted into gravitational radiation via Einstein’s E = mc². In theory, the matter outside of the black holes will be too sparse to create an electromagnetic burst. Only one black hole-black hole merger, the very first one, has ever been associated with an electromagnetic counterpart: a dubious proposition. (WERNER BENGER, CC BY-SA 4.0)

1.) Do gamma-ray bursts accompany black hole mergers? On September 14, 2015, the very first gravitational wave signal ever directly detected by humans arrived in the twin LIGO detectors. Indicating a merger of two black holes, one of 36 and one of 29 solar masses, they converted about three solar masses of energy into gravitational radiation. And then, unexpectedly, just 0.4 seconds later, a very small signal arrived in the Fermi GBM instrument: a potential indication of an accompanying electromagnetic signal.

But with more than 50 additional black hole-black hole mergers, including some that were more…

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Ethan Siegel
Starts With A Bang!

The Universe is: Expanding, cooling, and dark. It starts with a bang! #Cosmology Science writer, astrophysicist, science communicator & NASA columnist.