Particle Collider

Breaking the Speed of Light

22 Sep , 2011 by

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It’s been a tenet of the standard model of physics for over a century. The speed of light is a unwavering and unbreakable barrier, at least by any form of matter and energy we know of. Nothing in our Universe can travel faster than 299,792 km/s (186,282 miles per second), not even – as the term implies – light itself. It’s the universal constant, the “c” in Einstein’s E = mc2, a cosmic speed limit that can’t be broken.

That is, until now.

An international team of scientists at the Gran Sasso research facility outside of Rome announced today that they have clocked neutrinos traveling faster than the speed of light. The neutrinos, subatomic particles with very little mass, were contained within beams emitted from CERN 730 km (500 miles) away in Switzerland. Over a period of three years, 15,000 neutrino beams were fired from CERN at special detectors located deep underground at Gran Sasso. Where light would have made the trip in 2.4 thousandths of a second, the neutrinos made it there 60 nanoseconds faster – that’s 60 billionths of a second – a tiny difference to us but a huge difference to particle physicists!

The implications of such a discovery are staggering, as it would effectively undermine Einstein’s theory of relativity and force a rewrite of the Standard Model of physics.

The OPERA Neutrino Detector. Credit: LGNS.

“We are shocked,” said project spokesman and University of Bern physicist Antonio Ereditato.

“We have high confidence in our results. We have checked and rechecked for anything that could have distorted our measurements but we found nothing. We now want colleagues to check them independently.”

Neutrinos are created naturally from the decay of radioactive materials and from reactions that occur inside stars. Neutrinos are constantly zipping through space and can pass through solid material easily with little discernible effect… as you’ve been reading this billions of neutrinos have already passed through you!

The experiment, called OPERA (Oscillation Project with Emulsion-tRacking Apparatus) is located in Italy’s Gran Sasso facility 1,400 meters (4,593 feet) underground and uses a complex array of electronics and photographic plates to detect the particle beams. Its subterranean location helps prevent experiment contamination from other sources of radiation, such as cosmic rays. Over 750 scientists from 22 countries around the world work there.

Ereditato is confident in the results as they have been consistently measured in over 16,000 events over the past two years. Still, other experiments are being planned elsewhere in an attempt to confirm these remarkable findings. If they are confirmed, we may be looking at a literal breakdown of the modern rules of physics as we know them!

“We have high confidence in our results,” said Ereditato. “We have checked and rechecked for anything that could have distorted our measurements but we found nothing. We now want colleagues to check them independently.”

A preprint of the OPERA results will be posted on the physics website ArXiv.org.

Read more on the Nature article here and on Reuters.com.

UPDATE: The OPERA team paper can be found here.

 

 

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Evan O'Connor
Guest
September 22, 2011 10:36 PM

There is a fact wrong. The neutrinos didn’t make it in 60ns, they made it in 60ns _less than_ 2.4ms. This also tripped me the first time I read it elsewhere, where the wording is less than clear.

Lawdog
Member
September 22, 2011 10:37 PM

I hope this gets confirmed. This would be the single most important discovery that could ever happen in my lifetime.

Alejandro Garcia
Guest
Alejandro Garcia
September 22, 2011 11:38 PM
Sblack777
Member
Sblack777
September 22, 2011 11:47 PM

So I see the headline on MSN and go through the process:

1) Roll eyes and groan.
2) Think “Let’s see the real story that spawned another sensational, misleading headline.”
3) Go to Universetoday.

Step # 4 in the process is rare, last used around the Dark Energy confirmation time.

4) Continue perusing UT each day until it becomes clear how our understanding of Relativity has been incrementally enhanced and deepened by the data.

Peter
Member
September 22, 2011 10:41 PM

I could do the math but there are some here who really enjoy that sort of thing and I won’t take that from you. How fast are these guys going? I see new propulsion systems and warp drives even! Maybe we could build a ship of neutrinos! This is the sort of article for which I come to UT!

gopher65
Member
gopher65
September 23, 2011 2:26 AM

If these results are accurate – and I have doubts about that, due to the fact that no peer review whatsoever has been done (“science via press release” is intended to garner more funding, and serious researchers don’t do it) – then the neutrinos were traveling a very, very tiny fraction of a percent faster than the speed of light.

Peter
Member
September 22, 2011 10:48 PM

Okay, I couldn’t wait. That’s 40,000 times the speed of light! Not what ANYONE would call a “tiny difference”. 300,000 km/s is fast but 12 billion km/s is definitely faster. Need some corroberation here. Anyone have any pet theories on how this might be accomplished? What could even push something to that speed? Does that mean neutrinos can’t have baryonic mass? Or is it one of those old standby’s…neutrinos never cross the speed threshold because they are tachyonic, never slower than the speed of light?

Rob Hemmings
Guest
Rob Hemmings
September 22, 2011 11:39 PM

Nope – as Evan said, the article wording is wrong. They appear to be arriving in 60 nanoseconds less than 2.4 milliseconds so, if the results are confirmed, are travelling very slightly faster (0.0025%) than light.
Interesting, nonetheless! What would be nice would be a 500 mile long perfectly evacuated tube between the ‘transmitter’ and ‘receiver’, with light photons being sent in parallel with the neutrinos to confirm than nothing else is affecting the timing. Easier said than done! eek)

Keinen Wyatt
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Keinen Wyatt
September 23, 2011 10:35 AM

couldnt agree more rob

paikuhan
Member
paikuhan
September 23, 2011 7:06 PM

If i turn on a flishlight moving at 200.000m/s wouldnt the beam of light go 200.000m/s faster than one emited at 0m/s, that being 500.000m/s?

Steve Bergman
Guest
Steve Bergman
September 23, 2011 10:37 PM

Nope. Anyone measuring the speed of the beam would still see it as 300,000 km/s, and no matter how fast they might or not be travelling. c is c.

Olaf
Member
Olaf
September 24, 2011 11:14 AM

That is what is so contra intuitive in physics. Logically it would be like that but experiments shows that this universe does follow a different logic than the human logic.

And reality always wins over what humans think.

Bob Sireno
Guest
Bob Sireno
September 23, 2011 8:11 PM

0.0025% faster is stated as statistically significant. All measurements are being accepted as perfect. The transmission equipment is claimed to be precise. Instead, there are probable errors that likely will be confirmed when technology improves in the near future, as it always does. Should the results stand, then the speed of light may be taken as the maximum speed of photons only, where the wave/particle duality may result in a “drag” that is not understood. “Zero” mass neutrinos may actually be ever so slightly faster than light, or not. Time will tell.

joeclark0123
Member
joeclark0123
September 23, 2011 10:44 PM

Bob: I hope you and I have the time left in our lives to see the tell. My bet is that the equipment is insufficient to the task at hand but the results have stirred an even more fascinating dialogue in this column. Do keep those observations coming. They are fascinating in themselves. Now someone tell me about the math underlying the period of inflationary expansion in our universe; a subject as challenging as these speed of light commentaries. I may not have the gray matter to comprehend the discussion since I am mostly all ears!

Bob Sireno
Guest
Bob Sireno
September 24, 2011 5:12 AM
In the beginning there was only energy compressed into a single dimension. Space was “created” at the “time” of the Big Bang when two and then three physical dimensions were born. Space is not constrained by any speed limit as it is not physical, hence objects could be interpreted as having moved faster than light after the Big Bang when in fact it was space that expanded rapidly.. Since space expands in all directions the oldest observable radiation takes longer to arrive than expected as appears to slow down, or red shift, as space expands further. Perhaps the increasing expansion of space was brought about by additional, yet undetectable other than by gravitational pull, birth of additional physical… Read more »
joeclark0123
Member
joeclark0123
September 24, 2011 4:13 PM

Assuming neutrinos do follow the standard model and travel at a fixed speed as established does it necessarily follow that neutrinos travel through dark matter at that same speed and yet dark matter to my humble knowledge has no known material description yet is postulated to exist. Is dark matter as postulated to exist in pristine form or could it also exist in unique combinations with matter as we describe it.

Allegrotechie
Guest
September 22, 2011 11:28 PM

FAKE

Brad Goodspeed
Guest
September 22, 2011 11:30 PM

Is it strange that the media is aware of this before peer review? Is that a red flag, or has this been externally vetted in some way?

That’s the question I have… but if it comes up roses the, well, today is a pretty amazing day in the history of science, right?

sfwrtr
Member
sfwrtr
September 22, 2011 11:31 PM

I agree with @O’Connor. This statement is incorrect. The statement should read the neutrionos arrived 60 nanoseconds earlier than expected, not 40,000 times faster.

Where light would have made the trip in 2.4 thousandths of a second, the neutrinos made it in 60 nanoseconds – that’s 60 billionths of a second

William928
Member
William928
September 22, 2011 11:44 PM

Errr…There’s also a mistake in the third sentence, should read 186,282 mps, not mph. just a typo I’m sure. I’m surprised you didn’t catch it IVAN, however I know that you disregard non- metric forms of measurement.

Lights in the Dark
Guest
September 23, 2011 3:05 PM

Corrected.

Chang Sheng Hsien
Guest
September 22, 2011 11:44 PM

Wow!

the neutrinos are arriving 60 nanoseconds faster than the speed of light allows.

http://www.nature.com/news/2011/110922/full/news.2011.554.html

Ray Fowler
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Ray Fowler
September 23, 2011 12:06 AM

I’m going to go out on a limb and say these results will not be reproduced by other researchers and the claims eventually retracted.

Bill
Member
Bill
September 23, 2011 1:33 AM

this.

they even might not be able to figure it out, and other researchers looking at their data might not be able to figure it out, but until it gets reproduced somewhere else, it doesn’t change anything; it’s just a mysterious systematic error.

–edit–

dang, that is one hell of a run on sentence.

Ari
Guest
September 23, 2011 4:36 AM

That’s entirely possible- the issue is simply that they couldn’t find anything that was distorting their research. Now, if it’s repeatable under similar conditions, then we have an interesting discovery.

Anonymous
Guest
Anonymous
September 23, 2011 12:13 AM

Speed of light mistakenly indicated as per hour rather than per second: understandable oversight. Time of point-to-point travel of neutrinos in this experiment erroneously reported as 60 nanoseconds TOTAL rather than sixty nanoseconds FASTER than 2.4 milliseconds: completely misleading.

Anonymous
Guest
Anonymous
September 23, 2011 8:00 AM

Ditto , if you read the Nature article , it is clear that he neutrinos are just 60 nanoseconds faster.
Also I thought something : May be neutrinos actually move at the right speed of light ! ; It is light which is a laggard ! There is something on earth we don’t take into account and it slow the light. This mysterious thing permeate the void even the best we can make. And slow the light , like air or water do.

Diogo Parrinha
Guest
Diogo Parrinha
September 24, 2011 7:29 AM

The speed of light is the speed of light in the void. The speed of light in the air is slightly different and the speed of light in the water is way smaller. Thus your theory is most likely incorrect.

Anonymous
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Anonymous
September 24, 2011 8:04 AM

I am out of the office until 26/09/2011.

Je suis en congé , et répondrai à votre message à mon retour.

Note: This is an automated response to your message “[universetoday] Re: Breaking the Speed of Light” sent on 24/9/2011 9:29:44.

This is the only notification you will receive while this person is away.

Lights in the Dark
Guest
September 23, 2011 3:03 PM

You’re completely right, while the speed of light conversion into miles was a complete typo, the 60-nanosecond speed was a confusion on my part while reading the releases. Both have been corrected.

Anonymous
Guest
Anonymous
September 24, 2011 5:48 AM

Thank you, and I’m glad you understood I wasn’t being critical. Besides, I’m glad you brought that item to our attention in the first place; quite fascinating…and mysterious!

Nexus
Member
September 23, 2011 12:57 AM

I think the researchers are doing the responsible thing here. They’ve got a result that cannot be right, but they can’t figure out where the error is coming from. So they’ve opened the floor to other scientists to see if THEY can find the bug.

If all the other researchers can’t find the error, and subsequent experiments get similar results, only THEN do you begin to entertain the possibility that this result is actually real. It almost certainly is not.

Ari
Guest
September 23, 2011 4:34 AM

The results absolutely CAN be right, it would simply indicate the standard model is insufficient to describe our universe- something that we already know given that it cannot explain gravity.

But yes, anything that could indicate a hole in a widely-accepted theory with as accurate predictive power as the Standard Model is an incredible result and deserves careful validation and humble treatment.

Antony Blackett
Guest
Antony Blackett
September 23, 2011 1:21 AM

This is a little off topic, but let me get this straight. We can send Neutrinos through solid earth at the speed or possibly faster than the speed of light and then detect them arriving at their target destination…?

When can I can a wireless Neutrino internet connection?

Baris Bicer
Guest
Baris Bicer
September 23, 2011 2:43 AM

I’m guessing something like that won’t happen until the neutrino detectors and emitters get small enough to fit into a network card.

TerryG
Member
September 23, 2011 5:10 AM

It could take solid lead shielding several light years thick to prevent interference from random neutrino sources …. so your not going to like the miniaturization or the cost. Sowwy.

mastercope
Member
mastercope
September 23, 2011 2:01 PM

I’m on it right now!

Ray Benjamin
Guest
Ray Benjamin
September 23, 2011 1:38 AM

All speed records are meant to be broken …

Lawrence B. Crowell
Member
Lawrence B. Crowell
September 23, 2011 2:53 AM
This will burn off like the morning fog. The invariant mass is mc^2 = sqrt(E^2 – p^2), where this is negative for the tachyon. The neutrino mass would be imaginary valued. Now I do not know what it means to measure an imaginary valued quantity. The Regge poles m^2 = J^2 – n, n = 1 or 4 for open/closed strings, predicts an imaginary mass for a Tachyon with J = 0. These states are not physical and a constraint which removes them gives the elementary SO(24) SUGRA. The vacuum state for the tachyon is removed by standard QFT techniques. We might also think of them as being on a spacelike interval that recedes off to infinity instantly… Read more »
Anonymous
Guest
Anonymous
September 23, 2011 8:34 AM

Yes! So very fast moving mass could be seen as compressing space-time as its energy passes through at constant speed c, yes?

Lawrence B. Crowell
Member
Lawrence B. Crowell
September 23, 2011 5:23 PM

I guess I don’t know what you mean by compressing spacetime.

LC

Wezley Jackson
Guest
Wezley Jackson
September 23, 2011 1:49 PM
OK I combed the net to see if I could understand how apparently scientists are able to “slow” light also using negative refractive index materials and whether this means somthing is going faster or slower than light?… Although the light is considered slowed in certain mediums, apparently this slowing only refers to the group velocity (of the wave-group w/in the EM field) and not the wavefront speed or main velocity of the light itself. To be honest it all makes my head hurt (but I enjoy trying to understand it and get a little more through osmosis each time I circle this message board Another possible instance of violation of speed c I could find was: (wikipedia reference… Read more »
Lawrence B. Crowell
Member
Lawrence B. Crowell
September 23, 2011 5:43 PM
Quantum teleportation is a way quantum states may be nonlocally correlated at a distance. This process is not really a faster than light communication, and further the “Alice-Bob” teleportation requires that Alice communicate the orientation of her apparatus, which is the contextuality of the quantum outcome. Quantum mechanics is noncontextual with no local hidden variables. This requires Alice to communicate a classical signal to Bob with the orientation of her apparatus which selects the basis of states.. The slow light or light trapping is an example of extreme indices of refraction. These systems are compared to black holes, and some model experiments are being worked to test certain theories. This does not change what I said about the… Read more »
Opinion
Guest
Opinion
September 23, 2011 6:15 PM

Transport beaming tech ,,,, mmm, interesting!

Greg
Member
Greg
September 25, 2011 3:58 PM
Here is a thought experiment I posted a year or two back for your amusement: A future military force is interested in protecting an important base from a laser attack, let’s call it the White House. They install a communications network around the area connected to light detectors serving as an early warning system. Let’s then say that a lossless anomalous dispersive medium is used (similar to that used in the Princeton experiment) within the cable network of the detection/warning system that is connected to a receiving station at the White House. A peak of a wave pulse (within the detection network) could be manipulated to arrive at the White House receiving station faster than a prospective laser… Read more »
Chauncey McDermott
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Chauncey McDermott
September 23, 2011 6:46 PM

Do you feel better about yourself for posting all those ultra-intellectual factoids?

Olaf
Member
Olaf
September 23, 2011 9:58 PM

It is very educative and invites you to dig deeper into the material instead of staying in the philosophical only layer.
A lot of philosophical gets exposed as quackery very fast the moment you go into the maths part.

e.g. Did you notice that he wrote the 4ths dimension (time) as ct? And not t?
ct = lightspeed x times = distance.

anderdong
Guest
anderdong
September 24, 2011 1:34 AM

Do you feel bad about yourself for not understanding all those ultra-intellectual factoids?

Anonymous
Guest
Anonymous
September 24, 2011 3:03 AM

LC is UT’s most prolific science commentator. He digs under the surface and presents the mathematical arguments and mechanics that underpin our understanding.

Overtime, LC’s comments become less difficult to understand if one takes the effort to look up the terms and principles he often refers too.

Of course, sometimes he throws out a curve ball and presents in-depth information on theoretical work (often areas he is working on). These occasional posts still break me out in a moderate sweat.

Anonymous
Guest
Anonymous
September 23, 2011 8:24 PM

I agree. It seems to me that neutrino had passed through a compressed space-time.

Olaf
Member
Olaf
September 23, 2011 9:58 PM

Should d = (ct)^2 – x^2 – y^2 – z^2.
not be d^2 = (ct)^2 – x^2 – y^2 – z^2. ???

Lawrence B. Crowell
Member
Lawrence B. Crowell
September 23, 2011 11:54 PM

The equation is a form of Pythagoras’ theorem; c^2 = a^2 + b^2 for a right triangle. In general it is a distance formula in any space with an orthonormal coordinate system. In spacetime there is a sign difference between the time part and the space part.

LC

Olaf
Member
Olaf
September 24, 2011 1:42 AM

I was referring to the “d” part.
Is it d or d^2?

Lawrence B. Crowell
Member
Lawrence B. Crowell
September 24, 2011 2:59 AM

d is like the hypotenuse of the triangle, so this is d^2.

LC

Shanil Koshitha
Guest
Shanil Koshitha
September 23, 2011 2:55 AM

I have to say some facts here are wrong because Eisenstein’s theory of relativity says that “if u travel at the speed of light u can travel through time”. So if the neutrino travels even faster it should disappear the moment it is shot and should travel through time

Brian Smith
Guest
September 23, 2011 6:28 AM

Or it’s traveling backwards through time in the opposite direction you observed. Which would mean the neutrinos in the experiment were actually from a future experiment, and whoever conducted the first experiment probably stopped evolution from happening in some alternate timeline.

Anonymous
Guest
Anonymous
September 23, 2011 2:59 AM
What the hell? I’m seeing this in newspapers everywhere around the world. If confirmed, then yes – this would be an extraordinary finding. But extraordinary claims required extraordinary evidence, and I would have expected that at least 3 or four independent teams would have confirmed the result before we’d see hoo-haa in the press about it. Science-by-press-release is deplorable. The most disappointing thing about this is that when a systematic error is found in the measurements (which is most likely the case), there will be no public retraction by the news organisations. I’ll spend the next 20 years explaining to people how there was not in fact ‘some experiment that proved you can travel faster that the speed… Read more »
Greg
Member
Greg
September 23, 2011 3:04 AM
There was a controversy regarding the neutrino emissions from SN 1987A as to why they arrived 3 hours before the visible light did. One explanation is that neutrinos travel faster than the speed of light and the other was postulated was simply that the visible light could not be seen until the shock wave from the collapsar reached the surface of the star whereas the neutrinos were not so inhibited. I am wondering if this result correlates in any way with the SN1987A data. How much faster would the neutrinos from this star in the megellantic cloud have to be going than light speed to arrive 3 hours earlier, and does that match the speed of these neutrinos?… Read more »
utter confusion
Member
utter confusion
September 23, 2011 7:26 AM

3 hours in a travel time of around 168000 years looks to be a tinier ratio but that’s an interesting thought. I get a ratio of about 2.4×10-14 which I think is smaller than the difference being observed. That assumes all neutrinos play the same game though.

Torbjorn Larsson OM
Member
Torbjorn Larsson OM
September 23, 2011 3:56 PM

The discrepancy here is ~ 3*10-5.

utter confusion
Member
utter confusion
September 23, 2011 7:56 PM

Thanks, that’s the trouble with SIMPLE arithmetic! I have an error in the calculation for the possible difference in speed for the supernova neutrinos compared to photons and it is actually 2E-9. Still way too small compared to the experimenters ratio.

utter confusion
Member
utter confusion
September 23, 2011 7:56 PM

Thanks, that’s the trouble with SIMPLE arithmetic! I have an error in the calculation for the possible difference in speed for the supernova neutrinos compared to photons and it is actually 2E-9. Still way too small compared to the experimenters ratio.

jough donakowski
Guest
September 23, 2011 2:09 PM

If the measured neutrino velocity is correct, given the distances involved with SN1987A, the neutrinos should have gotten here years before photons, not hours. SN1987A is really good evidence that neutrinos are subluminal.

Torbjorn Larsson OM
Member
Torbjorn Larsson OM
September 23, 2011 3:55 PM

Yes. On the Nature blog, theoretical physicist Ellis was referred to as having made similar comments. The FERMI MINOS paper mentions it too.

Anonymous
Guest
Anonymous
September 23, 2011 9:33 PM

It is not just that neutrinos arrived 3 hours faster; but it is the light that has been observed 3 hours late.

Greg
Member
Greg
September 24, 2011 3:37 AM
Thanks to all for the responses. There is a small teaching point here with regards to random walk which is how it is possible for photons to be held back 3 hours when the star that went supernova obviously could not have been 3 light hours wide in diameter. Only when the shock wave from the implosion reached and obliterated the surface of the star could the photons produced from the event be seen. Since neutrinos do no interact with matter in the same way as photons they did not experience random walk and came straight at us. The three hour delay for the photons then is a function of both the diameter of the souce star before… Read more »
Anonymous
Guest
Anonymous
September 24, 2011 9:13 PM

I still am sceptical about neutrinos acting like tachyons. The SN1987A event might prove this concept wrong. I am now thinking if the effect of Earth’s rotation is included in their computations.

Tim McDaniel
Member
Tim McDaniel
September 23, 2011 3:19 AM
“The invariant mass is mc^2 = sqrt(E^2 – p^2), where this is negative for the tachyon. The neutrino mass would be imaginary valued.” I recall a press report a few years back where a group measured the square of the neutrino rest mass and got a negative number with error bars below zero … I don’t remember ever seeing an explicit rebuttal or retraction (we never do, it seems), just Wikipedia now saying that the best estimates are positive. Given the lack of peer review and the stunningness of the result, I too think it smells like moldy cannoli, and I too expect this to not be reproduced and to fade quietly from view. But boy it’ll be… Read more »
Nicholas
Guest
Nicholas
September 23, 2011 3:28 AM

Einstein’s theories of relativity do NOT say that nothing can travel faster than the speed of light. They say that nothing with non-zero rest mass can ever cross that barrier; although, zero rest-mass particles can do so. The real problem here is the relation between local and non-local events, e.g.: the dynamics of universal structure. Experimental tests of Bell’s inequality have shown that microscopic causality must be violated; i.e.: there must be faster-than-light travel. In any physical theory, we must assume that there is some kind of non-local structure – and this non-local structure itself violates causality – i.e.: it must assume faster-than-light connections exist in order for it to exist and to validate any physical laws.

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