The recent confirmation that at least some γ-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 γ-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 (∼1019 GeV), which is sufficient to test theories of quantum gravity. Such observations are already possible using existing γ-ray burst detectors.
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Amelino-Camelia, G., Ellis, J., Mavromatos, N. et al. Tests of quantum gravity from observations of γ-ray bursts. Nature 393, 763–765 (1998). https://doi.org/10.1038/31647
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