Particle Physics and Faster-Than-Light Neutrinos…Discuss.

Article written: 3 Oct , 2011
Updated: 14 Jan , 2016

On September 22, an international team of researchers working on the OPERA project at the Gran Sasso research facility released a paper on some potentially physics-shattering findings: beams of neutrinos that had traveled from the CERN facility near Geneva to their detector array outside of Rome at a speed faster than light. (Read more about this here and here.) Not a great deal faster, to be sure – only 60 nanoseconds faster than expected – but still faster. There’s been a lot of recoil from the scientific community about this announcement, and rightly so, since if it does end up being a legitimate finding then it would force us to rework much of what we have come to know about physics ever since Einstein’s theory of relativity.

Of course, to those of us not so well-versed in particle physics *raises hand* a lot of this information can quickly become overwhelming, to say the least. Thankfully the folks at Sixty Symbols have recorded this interview with two astrophysicists at the UK’s University of Nottingham. It helps explain some of the finer points of the discovery, what it means and what the science community in general thinks about it. Check it out!

Thanks to Dan Satterfield for posting this at his Wild Wild Science blog.

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14 Responses

  1. Anonymous says

    Maybe it’s time to take a new look at how we see Physics. I am no genius close 🙂 but I see a lot of theory’s come unglued cause the math don’t work.

  2. Anonymous says

    its incredible.. most exciting thing.
    time, space, mass, gravity, time – all in question exciting is not the word

    IQ 155

    • Anonymous says

      I don’t question them at all. At least, until there is independent confirmation of the results, and that can take years.

    • Torbjörn Larsson says

      I agree fully with DrFlimmer, and would go on to question the OPERA results meanwhile. I still think there are questions on the distance (and perhaps timing) measurements.

      Another huge problem, not mentioned in the video, is the statistics of the burst counts, as this is the usual way mundane light pulses seems to do analogous “ftl” travels in wave guides.

      The last problem is that unless any “discrepancy physics” cheats relativity, we don’t observe Cherenkov radiation from neutrinos themselves. That would make the suggestion of participating tachyons more likely.

  3. Tom says

    Maybe there’s something that supersedes Relativity like Relativity superseded Newton but didn’t disprove it. Gee, I really hope what I just said made sense 🙂

    • Anonymous says

      That’s quite probably the case, FTL neutrinos, or not,

      There’s a Nobel waiting for someone who can successfully merge General Relativity with Quantum Physics, for example, and it would also show both to be special cases of something greater…

      • Torbjörn Larsson says

        At least 3 Nobels. =D

        I would think they would cram out a lot from such a theory.

        Btw, GR and QFT _are_ merged successfully in low energy quantization of GR. It just turns out the theory isn’t renormalizable, which is as expected as GR is known to be an effective theory and not a fundamental QM theory.

        As GR can’t be faulted for not merging nor expected to merge any better, I would say that we are simply waiting for “the next theory” of gravity. GR plays so well with standard cosmology of the observable universe that I think the answer would come earliest with inflation and putative multiverse* physics.

        Unless… =D
        * Ironically then, if mundane inflation physics can’t cope with fundamental gravity perhaps the answer is in “extra universes” as an analogue to the “extra dimensions” scenario of ftl neutrinos.

  4. Anonymous says

    try the same experiment under the ocean, and see if the neutrinos get to the detector at the same speed that was measured, while light speed will slow down in the denser refractive water medium. Consider only a perfect vacuum, which does not exist, is c a constant. Earth’s atmosphere must slow light somewhat as photons do have interactions with matter, and neutrinos do not interact.

    • Anonymous says

      This experiment was not a race. The speed of the neutrinos was surely compared to the speed of light in vacuum.

  5. Torbjörn Larsson says

    Here is an area where an astrophysicist could pitch in. How does the SN 1987A 3 h time differential between neutrinos and photons fit into the latest supernova simulations?

    Ideally one would find out that the neutrinos traveled slightly slower than the photons, that were in the process of catching up a larger initial lag. That would put the fox among the OPERA neutrinos, I would think.

    [Googling turns up this review:

    “If the neutrino heating mechanism works sufficiently to revive the stalled shock
    wave, the shock wave goes into the stellar envelope and finally blows o ff. This is observed as a supernova after the shock breaks out the photosphere. […] The propagation time of the shock wave depends on the stellar radius and is in the range from several hours to days.” [p 24]

    It certainly looks possible that the SN 1987A neutrinos traveled slower than light, in accordance with their invariant mass observations. Maybe someone can firm up the constraint and make a realistic estimate of any percentage lower speed.]

    A problem in the other direction is exclusion of a 3.5 year early ftl pulse. Since we are speaking of different neutrinos, such an event could validate both results of SN 1987A and OPERA. However, of the three detectors observing the event, two were presumably operating during 1983-84. (Not Kamiokande-II operating from 1985, but IMB from 1982 and Baksan from 1977.)

  6. Anonymous says

    Why is the speed of light not in question here i.e. has science made a mistake in the accurate measurement of a photon travelling from point to point? As i understand it a photon has no mass and a neutrino does? Can this also be wrong regardless of how we observe and experience physics here on earth? It just sounds like bad sci/fi considering the scientific advancement since the theory of GR, but the world was flat once and you could fall off the edge never to return…..ahem… is this also going to happen to GR?

  7. Doubter says

    If the train arrived early either it went faster or your watch is slow. The photons which appeared to arrive after the tachyons traveled through time as well as space. A variation of either the observer’s time or space would seem to be necessary to account for the disparity in the observed arrival time of these particles.

  8. Roger Overcash says

    Do not lay your bets down yet. The outstanding claim of accuracy is more remarkable than the claimed results i.e. FTL neutrinos. These distance and time measurements are quite complicated leaving much to margin of error. For the most part, these measurements are indirect e.g. GPS signals cannot penetrate under ground, stretching optical fiber from point “A” to point “B” and estimating time production of neutrinos. I hope they did not take the earths rotation into account here as it is not applicable in this case. The emitter and the detector, though on a rotating earth, are in the same inertial frame. One other thing that should be noted here is while the young green scientist at OPERA are still dancing around, the seniors are backing out of the public eye. All that was really asked for was to “please check our measurements to see if and where we messed up”. The press however caught wind of this and blew it all out of proportion and here we are. This might not be resolved early as I have said these computations are lengthy and complex and even estimated by averages. My best guess is that SR and GR will win out again when resolved.
    Rspectfully, Roger Overcash

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