About a century ago, a great mind brought to the world the General Theory of Relativity. It was such a majestic work that numerous scientific processes from nowadays, especially those from the astrophysics field, are relying on the theory. You may have heard about this great mind: it was a physician named Albert Einstein.
Besides describing perfectly the time dilation under certain conditions and how gravity works, Einstein also confirmed a very important fact: the speed of light is constant and also the maximum speed allowed by the laws of physics. Who or whatever wrote those laws knew very well what he or it was doing: if an object traveled at the speed of light, it would have infinite mass. But is it really true that nothing can ever surpass the speed of light? After all, Einstein was only a man, and nobody’s perfect. Even he made mistakes and admitted them.
Are hot gas jets from a black hole surpassing the speed of light?
A team of astronomers made some observations by NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory, as they detected hot gas jets bursting outside of a black hole located 10,000 light-years away from us. While hot gas from the surrounding star gets guzzled up by the black hole, a significant part of the hot gas shoots out in the form of jets, or beams of material.
From a human perspective, it appears like the northern jet that the black hole is releasing is traveling at 60 percent the speed of light, while the southern one is even surpassing the speed of light. For the second case, this would have been a revolutionizing idea in science if it was somehow true. As suggested earlier, it’s scientifically impossible for something, anything, to surpass the speed of light.
Scientists concluded that the reason why the southern jet seems to be going faster than the speed of light is just an optical illusion. If something travels towards us even near the speed of light and along a direction close to our line of sight then that points to the fact that it’s traveling almost as rapidly towards us as the light it creates. That’s how the illusion occurs.
The study was published and detailed in The Astrophysical Journal Letters.
What about the expansion of the Universe?
Isn’t the expansion of our Universe faster than the speed of light? Science says so, therefore we should believe it. But isn’t this violating what Einstein said that nothing can ever surpass the speed of light? Long story short: NO!
When Einstein made his claim, he was referring only about things that are included in the Universe itself. He actually meant that the speed of light is the maximum allowed speed THROUGH the Universe. Einstein didn’t rule out the possibility that there could be totally different laws outside the Universe or even at its edges.
There might be one way after all
There is only one way to travel faster than light, but the chances of creating this scenario are close to null. Actually, it wouldn’t literally mean to travel faster than light, but only to ‘trick’ the Universe’s infrangible laws. The answer is the wormhole, a theoretical shortcut in spacetime that could allow us to travel to distant corners from the Universe in no-time. There are two big problems, however: scientists are not 100 percent sure that a structure like this actually exists somewhere, as they know only theoretically about its existence. And second, scientists would need a literal out-of-this-world amount of energy to ever be able to build a wormhole.
So there you have it: Einstein was right all along, and nothing could ever surpass the speed of light. He got it wrong once when he said that the Universe is static and not expanding, but at least he corrected himself. And perhaps Einstein will be proven right many times from now on.