The Unexplained Disappearance of Ettore Majorana, and his mysterious reappearance 20 years later

Ettore Majorana
The presumed recognition of Majorana in the face of the stranger © Centro Studi Repubblica Sociale Italiana

Scientist, Ettore Majorana was born in Italy in 1906. He famously went missing, presumed dead on 27 March 1938, aged 32. It was claimed he disappeared, or vanished, suddenly under very mysterious circumstances while going by ship from Palermo to Naples. Almost 20 years later he was photographed in Argentina, still looking the same age as he was in 1938.

Ettore Majorana
The Italian physicist Ettore Majorana was born in Catania on 5 August 1906. Brilliant mind, he worked on nuclear physics and relativistic quantum mechanics. His sudden and mysterious disappearance, in 1938, has aroused continuous speculations that have not yet subsided after decades © Wikimedia Commons

Strange Meeting

Whilst rumours of his death circulated, nothing was ever proved, until 2011. On March 2011, The Rome Attorney’s office announced an inquiry into a strange statement made by a witness about a meeting with Majorana in Buenos Aires in the years after World War II, in which he claims Majorana disclosed a number of major scientific discoveries. The witness also claimed that when he went back to meet Majorana a second time, he had disappeared, and could therefore not provide more details on the scientific discoveries.

Ettore Majorana
The presumed recognition of Majorana in the face of the stranger © Centro Studi Repubblica Sociale Italiana

On June 7, 2011, Italian media reported that the Carabinieri’s RIS had analyzed a photograph of a man taken in Argentina in 1955, finding ten points of similarity with Majorana’s face. They stated the picture was almost certainly Majorana, – whom has vanished almost 20 years before the picture was taken. The odd thing was, Majorana looked almost the same age in the pictures from 1938 as he did in 1955. The Carabinieri made no comments about his lack of ageing.

Ettore Majorana
The main hypotheses that have been made on the voluntary disappearance of Ettore Majorana, apart from suicide, follow three strands: the German, the Argentine and the monastic one. The German hypothesis assumes that he returned to Germany to put his knowledge and insights at the disposal of the Third Reich, and that after the Second World War he emigrated to Argentina. One of the evidence supporting this theory is this 1950 photo which portrays the Nazi criminal Eichmann (right) with a man who, according to some, is Majorana (Mondadori).

Strange Discovery

Ettore Majorana was a brilliant scientist, engineer and mathematician, as well as a theoretical physicist (who worked on neutrino masses). The Majorana equation and Majorana fermions are named after him.

In 1937, Majorana predicted that a stable particle could exist in nature that was both matter and antimatter. In our everyday experience, there is matter (which is abundant in our known universe) and antimatter (which is very rare). Should matter and antimatter meet, they both annihilate, disappearing in a flash of energy.

Did he try some strange experiment that had him disappearing in a flash of energy, only to reappear, instantly in a flash, 20 years later?

Ettore Majorana
Despite the efforts of the investigators, no documented trace of his destination was ever found and searches at sea did not give any results. In the photo Ettore Majorana before a boat trip

Conspiracy

Rumours have been swirling around about his disappearance since the very moment he failed to step off the boat that he was spotted boarding in March 1938.

However, even this single concrete detail in the case, (that Majorana stepped onto a boat) is in dispute. Some believe he deliberately placed a decoy on the boat. Others think the boat trip was simply a fabrication of those he left behind, who knew of his true fate, but wanted some evidence of his disappearance.

Nobel Prize Winner, Fermi, when discussing Majorana’s disappearance, famously said, “Ettore was too intelligent. If he has decided to disappear, no-one will be able to find him. Not in this time, or another” It looks like he may have been right. Was Majorana the first time traveller?

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