Scoff-law neutrinos defy lightspeed limit, baffle physicists

by Anonymous on Sep. 23rd, 2011

Neutrino event: Experiments at neutrino detectors have established that neutrinos oscillate among three flavors, each with a different tiny mass.
Neutrino event: Experiments at neutrino detectors have established that neutrinos oscillate among three flavors, each with a different tiny mass.Courtesy Berkeley Lab
Scientists at CERN are tentatively "claiming" that they've clocked sub-atomic particles known as neutrinos going faster than the speed of light, something physics has long held impossible.

The speed of light (approximately 186,282 miles per second) is a constant in Einstein's famous general theory of relativity and considered one of the foundations of modern physics. The experiment's physicists seem almost embarrassed bringing the matter to the public's attention but they're baffled by their test results and hope some other scientists will pick up the ball and prove them right or wrong. The abstract of their study is posted online here.

Neutrinos are those oddball, nearly massless sub-atomic particles that, because of their lack of an electric charge, can seemingly pass straight through just about anything without interacting with other particles of matter. In an experiment called Oscillation Project with Emusion tRacking Apparatus (OPERA) beams of neutrinos were shot from a particle accelerator at CERN in Geneva, Switzerland under the Apennines mountains to a detector in the Gran Sasso cavern in Italy. Measurements showed that the neutrinos arrived 60 nanoseconds sooner than they should have if they were obeying the speed of light limit. One bizarre explanation is that the neutrinos somehow managed to take a shortcut across a hidden fifth dimension to beat out other particles to the finish line. If that proves true it would keep intact the speed limit of light. This is weird, weird science. It will be fascinating to see where this goes.

Story on New Scientist story
More about OPERA and neutrinos

Your Comments, Thoughts, Questions, Ideas

JGordon's picture
JGordon says:

Super interesting.

They gave the distance used in the experiment along with the 60 nanoseconds figure, so I suppose it wouldn't be too difficult to calculate a percentage for exactly how much faster the neutrinos seemed to travel ... but I want someone else to do it for me. Anyone? Anyone?

In the article I read on it, the researcher quoted was very careful to say that they weren't really saying anything (yet), just that that was the measurement the equipment gave them, and that it seemed kinda crazy, and that they were going to try to figure out why the equipment gave them that measurement. Oh, scientists. If I were him, I'd be rolling naked on top of a pile of photos of Albert Einstein. Again.

posted on Fri, 09/23/2011 - 11:28am
mdr's picture
mdr says:

This article at Technology Review posits that the discrepancy of the neutrinos' arrival time can be explained by the relativistic motion of clocks on board the GPS satellites used to time the experiment.

posted on Sat, 10/15/2011 - 9:18am
KelsiDayle's picture
KelsiDayle says:

Now my brain hurts... relative physics is fascinating, but challenging to understand!

posted on Mon, 10/17/2011 - 11:57am
JGordon's picture
JGordon says:

Apparently the researchers have replicated their results, after refining the experiment to account for some of the criticisms leveled at the original results.

A few more members of the large OPERA research group have signed on to the findings, although a couple have now also refused to sign. So, you know, the evidence may be better now, but going around saying you've found something faster than the fastest thing ever is a big deal, and folks remain skeptical.

The case is still open, Buzzketeers!

posted on Fri, 11/18/2011 - 1:40pm
mdr's picture
mdr says:

Nothing makes sense anymore!!

posted on Fri, 11/18/2011 - 5:32pm
shakari  colvin 's picture
shakari colvin says:

what does that mean

posted on Sat, 11/19/2011 - 6:00pm
JGordon's picture
JGordon says:

More criticism of the original tests. (Not that I understand it.)

posted on Tue, 11/22/2011 - 9:30am

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