Neutrinos Faster Than Light?
September 23, 2011 4 Comments
Big big news yesterday: researchers at CERN, over the course of three years of experiments, recorded neutrinos going faster than light. This is, of course, an issue, since modern physics, since Einstein, is based on the idea that by definition nothing goes faster than light. But as they say, extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, so no one is close to accepting CERN’s results just yet (not even CERN).
These results will get picked at and blasted from all angles for the next while I assume, and other labs will have to try to replicate their results, although apparently there are only two other labs in the world capable of doing so (one of them is Fermilab, whose particle accelerator Tevatron was left in the dust when CERN created the Large Hadron Collider (now wasn’t that last LHC post relevant? (although the LHC was not involved in this neutrino discovery (close brackets)))).
Suffice it to say, if this discovery did end up being true, we’d be witnesses to an insane scientific revolution, overturning special relativity and probably making physics even more incomprehensible. But it probably won’t be true.
European researchers said they clocked an oddball type of subatomic particle called a neutrino going faster than the 186,282 miles per second that has long been considered the cosmic speed limit.
The claim was met with skepticism, with one outside physicist calling it the equivalent of saying you have a flying carpet. In fact, the researchers themselves are not ready to proclaim a discovery and are asking other physicists to independently try to verify their findings.
“The feeling that most people have is this can’t be right, this can’t be real,” said James Gillies, a spokesman for the European Organization for Nuclear Research, or CERN, which provided the particle accelerator that sent neutrinos on their breakneck 454-mile trip underground from Geneva to Italy…
Einstein’s special relativity theory, which says that energy equals mass times the speed of light squared, underlies “pretty much everything in modern physics,” said John Ellis, a theoretical physicist at CERN who was not involved in the experiment. “It has worked perfectly up until now.”
… So if the neutrinos are pulling this fast one on Einstein, how can it happen?
Parke said there could be a cosmic shortcut through another dimension – physics theory is full of unseen dimensions – that allows the neutrinos to beat the speed of light.
Indiana’s Kostelecky theorizes that there are situations when the background is different in the universe, not perfectly symmetrical as Einstein says. Those changes in background may alter both the speed of light and the speed of neutrinos.
But that doesn’t mean Einstein’s theory is ready for the trash heap, he said.
“I don’t think you’re going to ever kill Einstein’s theory. You can’t. It works,” Kostelecky said. There are just times when an additional explanation is needed, he said.
If the European findings are correct, “this would change the idea of how the universe is put together,” Columbia’s Greene said. But he added: “I would bet just about everything I hold dear that this won’t hold up to scrutiny.”
Now we must sit on the edge of our seats while they spend the next 10 years trying to replicate this.