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balloon flying in Antarctica

Media outlets from around the world used research out of the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa to promote a theory about parallel universes. The headlines caught the attention of many but the problem is that the UH research and NASA, the sponsor of that research, had nothing to do with the theory.

That did not stop the Daily Star, an United Kingdom based newspaper, from this story on May 17, “NASA scientists detect parallel universe ‘next to ours’ where time runs backwards” that cited the UH research. The New York Post, the Thrillist and other media outlets followed with similar articles, that also cited the UH based research.

The research by UH Mānoa physics professor Peter Gorham of the Department of Physics and Astronomy discovered that some cosmic-ray events observed in Antarctica have characteristics that are in tension with the standard model of particle physics. Gorham and his team used the Antarctic Impulsive Transient Antenna to detect radio pulses which arise from a burst of high-energy particles erupting from the ice that resemble an upside-down cosmic-ray air shower. The sudden interest in the work had led to Gorham, who is responsible for the research, being misquoted in some stories and the UH News story on his work from December 10, 2018, “UH professor’s Antarctica discovery may herald new model of physics,” has been misinterpreted by many journalists taking the inaccurate parallel universe story at face value.

“This whole parallel universe thing was not invented by us but somehow we have gotten tagged with it,” said Gorham. “A journalist got it wrong, tied it to us and it has unfortunately snowballed. We actually had nothing to do with the development of the parallel universe idea.”

Demonstrating the sudden interest in the story, the UH News story on Gorham’s work received more than 8,408 hits from Tuesday, May 19 until the morning of Thursday, May 21. Before that, the story had received 834 hits in all of 2020.

“Unfortunately the journalism on this has not distinguished very well between our experimental work which identified some anomalies in the data, and the theory proposed by some physicists who are not a part of our collaboration,” said Gorham. “While I am not opposed to free speculation regarding the anomalies we have observed, our own opinion is that they are more likely to be explained in terms of physics, that is likely to be much less exotic.”

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