Physicists studying the rotation of minuscule particles fired by exploding stars light years from Earth have found new evidence for a so-called 'Theory of Everything'.
Researchers have been frantically studying ways to reconcile two apparently contradictory pillars of modern physics for decades.
Put simply, those are Einstein's theory of relativity - which covers the interaction of space and time on a large scale - and quantum theory, which covers the strange ways that sub-atomic particles behave.
One of the ideas mooted as a possible explanation is string theory, a framework which proposes that all of matter is made up of loops of vibrating strings.
(Needless to say, each of these theories is hideously complex - so much so that attempting to do justice to them in this article would be impossible. We suggest this as an interesting primer for the lay reader, or this if you have more time on your hands.)
What is relevant for this story is the proposal in superstring theory that every particle of matter has an equal and opposite 'anti-matter' particle, which if time were reversed would behave in exactly the same way as normal matter.
And it is this that new observations by the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency's Ikaros spacecraft could help reinforce.
That craft has been watching the fallout from giant explosions in space many light years from Earth. Those explosions are either collisions of vastly dense neutron stars, or else a large supernova explosion. Either way the result is huge amounts of photons being fired in all directions - including towards Earth.
Using their Gamma-Ray Burst Polarimeter, the scientists are studying how those particles rotate. If the rotation of their polarity had changed even slightly, it would indicate a lack of symmetry if time were reversed - thus evidence against superstring thory.
And, luckily, the reported conclusion is that no change was detected. The team said that they are confident to one part in 10 million that the symmetry is consistent - a new record.
"We have confirmed that the CPT symmetry is not violated even at extremely small distances," said Kenji Toma at Osaka University.
"This result puts a fundamental constraint on quantum gravity, a dream theory reconciling Einstein's theory of relativity and quantum theory."
It's not proof of superstring theory - nowhere near. But it's interesting and rare physical evidence that its principles are sound, as far as we can tell.
So while the universe might not be simple enough to understand without giving yourself a headache, as of press time it isn't even more inexplicable than it was yesterday.
Which is a comforting thought.Suggest a correction