Letters to Nature

Nature 393, 763-765 (25 June 1998) | doi:10.1038/31647; Received 12 December 1997; Accepted 10 April 1998

Tests of quantum gravity from observations of big gamma-ray bursts

G. Amelino-Camelia1,2, John Ellis3, N. E. Mavromatos1, D. V. Nanopoulos4 & Subir Sarkar1

  1. Theoretical Physics, University of Oxford, 1 Keble Road, Oxford OX1 3NP, UK
  2. Institut de Physique, Université de Neuchâtel, CH-2000 Neuchâtel, Switzerland
  3. Theory Division, CERN, CH-1211 Geneva, Switzerland
  4. Academy of Athens, Chair of Theoretical Physics, Division of Natural Sciences, 28 Panepistimiou Avenue, Athens GR-10679, Greece; Center for Theoretical Physics, Department of Physics, Texas A & M University, College Station, Texas 77846-4242, USA; and Astroparticle Physics Group, Houston Advanced Research Center (HARC), The Mitchell Campus, Woodlands, Texas 77381, USA

Correspondence to: G. Amelino-Camelia1,2 Correspondence and requests for materials should be addressed to G.A.-C. at the University of Neuchatel (e-mail: Email: Giovanni.Amelino-Camelia@cern.ch).

The recent confirmation that at least some gamma-ray bursts originate at cosmological distances1, 2, 3, 4 suggests that the radiation from them could be used to probe some of the fundamental laws of physics. Here we show that gamma-ray bursts will be sensitive to an energy dispersion predicted by some approaches to quantum gravity. Many of the bursts have structure on relatively rapid timescales5, which means that in principle it is possible to look for energy-dependent dispersion of the radiation, manifested in the arrival times of the photons, if several different energy bands are observed simultaneously. A simple estimate indicates that, because of their high energies and distant origin, observations of these bursts should be sensitive to a dispersion scale that is comparable to the Planck energy scale (approx1019 GeV), which is sufficient to test theories of quantum gravity. Such observations are already possible using existing gamma-ray burst detectors.