Physicists wary of junking light speed limit yet

Sep 23, 2011 By FRANK JORDANS , Associated Press
This undated file photo shows famed physicist Albert Einstein. Scientists at the European Organization for Nuclear Research, or CERN, the world's largest physics lab, say they have clocked subatomic particles, called neutrinos, traveling faster than light, a feat that, if true, would break a fundamental pillar of science, the idea that nothing is supposed to move faster than light, at least according to Einstein's special theory of relativity: The famous E (equals) mc2 equation. That stands for energy equals mass times the speed of light squared. The readings have so astounded researchers that they are asking others to independently verify the measurements before claiming an actual discovery. (AP Photo)

(AP) -- Physicists on the team that measured particles traveling faster than light said Friday they were as surprised as their skeptics about the results, which appear to violate the laws of nature as we know them.

Hundreds of scientists packed an auditorium at one of the world's foremost laboratories on the Swiss-French border to hear how a , the neutrino, was found to have outrun and confounded the theories of .

"To our great surprise we found an anomaly," said Antonio Ereditato, who participated in the experiment and speaks on behalf of the team.

An anomaly is a mild way of putting it.

Going faster than light is something that is just not supposed to happen, according to Einstein's 1905 . The speed of light - 186,282 miles per second (299,792 kilometers per second) - has long been considered a cosmic speed limit.

The team - a collaboration between France's National Institute for Nuclear and Particle Physics Research and Italy's Gran Sasso National Laboratory - fired a 454 miles (730 kilometers) underground from Geneva to Italy.

They found it traveled 60 nanoseconds faster than light. That's sixty billionth of a second, a time no human brain could register.

"You could say it's peanuts, but it's not. It's something that we can measure rather accurately with a small uncertainty," Ereditato told The Associated Press.

If the experiment is independently repeated - most likely by teams in the United States or Japan - then it would require a fundamental rethink of .

"Everybody knows that the speed limit is c, the . And if you find some matter particle such as the neutrino going faster than light, this is something which immediately shocks everybody, including us," said Ereditato, a researcher at the University of Bern, Switzerland.

Physicists not involved in the experiment have been understandably skeptical.

Alvaro De Rujula, a theoretical physicist at CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research outside Geneva from where the neutron beam was fired, said he blamed the readings on a so-far undetected human error.

If not, and it's a big if, the door would be opened to some wild possibilities.

The average person, said De Rujula, "could, in principle, travel to the past and kill their mother before they were born."

But Ereditato and his team are wary of letting such science fiction story lines keep them up at night.

"We will continue our studies and we will wait patiently for the confirmation," he told the AP. "Everybody is free to do what they want: to think, to claim, to dream."

He added: "I'm not going to tell you my dreams."

Explore further: Using antineutrinos to monitor nuclear reactors

4.5 /5 (8 votes)
add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Roll over Einstein: Law of physics challenged (Update 3)

Sep 22, 2011

One of the very pillars of physics and Einstein's theory of relativity - that nothing can go faster than the speed of light - was rocked Thursday by new findings from one of the world's foremost laboratories.

CERN neutrino project on target

Aug 16, 2005

Scientists at CERN announced the completion of the target assembly for the CERN neutrinos to Gran Sasso project, CNGS. On schedule for start-up in May 2006, CNGS will send a beam of neutrinos through the Earth to the Gran ...

Green light for the neutrino beam from Cern to Gran Sasso

Sep 12, 2006

The delivery of the neutrino beam (Cngs) from Cern and the beginning of a new generation of experiments were officially celebrated today at Infn (Italian National Institute for Nuclear Physics) National Laboratories of Gran ...

Is the Vacuum Empty? -- the Higgs Field and the Dark Energy

May 10, 2007

The problems in understanding the true nature of the “vacuum” of space were discussed by theoretical physicist Alvaro de Rújula from CERN (the European Council for Nuclear Research) in Geneva, Switzerland, and a professor ...

Recommended for you

Using antineutrinos to monitor nuclear reactors

14 hours ago

When monitoring nuclear reactors, the International Atomic Energy Agency has to rely on input given by the operators. In the future, antineutrino detectors may provide an additional option for monitoring. ...

Imaging turns a corner

18 hours ago

(Phys.org) —Scientists have developed a new microscope which enables a dramatically improved view of biological cells.

Mapping the road to quantum gravity

Apr 23, 2014

The road uniting quantum field theory and general relativity – the two great theories of modern physics – has been impassable for 80 years. Could a tool from condensed matter physics finally help map ...

User comments : 20

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

ACW
not rated yet Sep 23, 2011
The implications are exciting
JeffLawson
1 / 5 (7) Sep 23, 2011
Must be experimental error: clocks out of sync.
The obvious thing to do is measure the return trip using the same clocks, though that might incur a large cost in extra equipment.
ArtflDgr
1 / 5 (1) Sep 23, 2011
very interesting discussion here..
neoneocon.com/2011/09/23/neutrinos-faster-than-light/
JIMBO
1.8 / 5 (4) Sep 23, 2011
I for one think it's a true discovery & that this result will be reproduced. Neutrinos have been weird since Pauli was forced to postulate them in the 30s. In the 50s, they were first discovered emanating from a nuclear reactor. In the 80s they appeared hours prior to optical observations of SN1987A. The SM of particle physics incorporated them as real, massless fermions initially, but if this result holds that they are tachyonic, it implies that any mass they have is imaginary, & they violate Lorentz invariance.
jakack
3.3 / 5 (3) Sep 23, 2011
Always have to be open to error or other factors not realized previously. That is science. That not only applies to this recent discovery but also to the previous "consensus" of understanding of what is.

That is probably why the good scientists seem crazy, they've got their minds open so wide that they could just about lose it.
LokiMelkor
1 / 5 (7) Sep 23, 2011
But according to the theory of relativity, speed of some particles can be larger than the speed of light. eg: Tackions. Their Born Speed is greaterthan c. (where c = Velo of Light in free Space)

And speed of some particles in Cherenkov Radiation, also larger than the speed of light.

According to the theory of relativity, any particle can not exceed the speed of light by accleration from it was at rest.

So The neutrino case is not against the Relativity
Gustav
5 / 5 (2) Sep 23, 2011
Tachyons don't violate Lorentz invariance. They're perfectly good citizens of the Minkowski spacetime. Also, contrary to what is often said, they don't violate causality, but one has to invoke re-interpretation of tachyon related events to see this. Basically a tachyon that is seen as moving back in time is re-interpreted as anti-tachyon that moves forward in time(this has been observed by Feinberg, but it's pretty obvious anyway...), then everything is fine. Tachyons show up often in various quantum field theories, but are normally discarded as unwanted artifacts. Also, at first glance tachyons would have to be spinless, because there are no representations of the Lorentz group corresponding to imaginary mass with dim > 1. So here goes the idea that neutrinos may be tachyons. But, there may be some more complex non-linear mechanism involved that would rescue this hypothesis, perhaps, similar to symmetry breaking.
pauljpease
4 / 5 (4) Sep 23, 2011
very interesting discussion here..
neoneocon.com/2011/09/23/neutrinos-faster-than-light/


ArtflDgr, I read some of your discussion on that other thread. Unfortunately, like all humans I've ever known, you don't know when you're mistaken. You explicitly claim that Newton was merely extended, not overthrown. That is simply and totally wrong. Newton's theory gives fairly accurate predictions in some situations, but the REASONS behind his theories are wrong. It's like saying the theory of epicycles wasn't overthrown, just extended. After all, they give pretty accurate predictions in some situations. It turns out they give them for the wrong reasons though. The common misconception that quantum theory and relativity reduce to Newtonian physics at a certain limit is just false, because the underlying mechanisms of the different theories are not connected. If you can admit you were wrong in this I might be inclined to take your other comments seriously. So what will it be?
Temple
5 / 5 (2) Sep 23, 2011
Unfortunately, like all humans I've ever known, you don't know when you're mistaken.

...

Newton's theory gives fairly accurate predictions in some situations, but the REASONS behind his theories are wrong.


Your post is amusing in its irony. Newton's theories provided a way to describe gravity (with pretty good accuracy, but incomplete as we all know). Newton himself gave no "REASONS" as to how gravity worked. He specifically said that he didn't know.
steven_s_greenberg
not rated yet Sep 23, 2011
"Gran Sasso National Laboratory - fired a neutrino beam 454 miles (730 kilometers) underground from Geneva to Italy."

How does one accurately measure a distance of 730 kilometers underground? I don't think you can use a laser. How did they send light that same distance underground? The speed of light is usually stated as the speed in a vacuum. How did they compensate for the non vacuum condition underground? Have they built a 730 kilometer vacuum tunnel underground?

Lot's of questions for which I'd like to see some answers. I cannot believe that scientists as sophisticated as this would fail to have answers to these questions. So I guess I just have to wait for the answers to come out.
pauljpease
3.7 / 5 (3) Sep 23, 2011
Unfortunately, like all humans I've ever known, you don't know when you're mistaken.

...

Newton's theory gives fairly accurate predictions in some situations, but the REASONS behind his theories are wrong.


Your post is amusing in its irony. Newton's theories provided a way to describe gravity (with pretty good accuracy, but incomplete as we all know). Newton himself gave no "REASONS" as to how gravity worked. He specifically said that he didn't know.


Depends on how you define reason. His "way to describe gravity" postulated an invariant background (space and time), and an apparent attraction between massive objects. That's what I'm referring to when I say his "reasons", as in, his reasoning about gravity. As opposed to Einstein's reasoning about gravity, based on a variable space-time and that mass generates curvature in space-time. The difference makes me think of phlogiston theory in early chemistry, a sort of accurate theory based on flawed reasons.
GreyLensman
not rated yet Sep 23, 2011

Lot's of questions for which I'd like to see some answers.

Read the paper - it's online.
GreyLensman
5 / 5 (4) Sep 23, 2011
Must be experimental error: clocks out of sync.
The obvious thing to do is measure the return trip using the same clocks, though that might incur a large cost in extra equipment.

I doubt that it's clocks, but I too think that it's a systematic error. These are smart hombres - as smart as it gets, but no-one can think of everything.
It's way, way, way too early to start rabbitting on about tachyons and extra dimensions.
Erik
3 / 5 (2) Sep 23, 2011
Could it be frame dragging caused by the Earth's rotation?
Daein
1 / 5 (1) Sep 23, 2011
Could be true, like pauljpease was talking about Newton. It's the way theories are wrong, even by tiny unmeasurable margins, like Newton's theories were for the longest time that open doors to a whole new world of understanding in Physics. If Einstein was wrong in an almost unmeasurable small way it could be a key to a whole new understanding of the universe.
CaliforniaDave
1 / 5 (1) Sep 24, 2011
Silly question maybe but does this result not simply represent a new, super accurate value of the speed of light? i.e. the neutrinos are travelling at c, these guys have just measured c more accurately than anyone previously?
SBuda
not rated yet Sep 24, 2011
Must be experimental error: clocks out of sync.
The obvious thing to do is measure the return trip using the same clocks, though that might incur a large cost in extra equipment.


If that was true, the speed of light would also show a change correct? However, in the same tests, the speed of light is the same, meaning the timing is not an issue.
Cphr
1 / 5 (1) Sep 24, 2011
This could mean that:
A. The speed of light changes or is dynamically changing.
B. The speed of light is 60 nanoseconds faster than we were able to previously measure.
hudres
not rated yet Sep 28, 2011
Hello ... Think about the math. e=mc^2 A neutrino has no charge (so e = 0) and no mass (so m = 0). This gives us 0 = 0 times the speed of light. Obviously this equation does not work, so this tells us we are dealing with a quantum phenomenon and that we are not limited by Einsteinian constraints.
rsklyar
not rated yet Oct 02, 2011
Plagiarism in a "family" style
How young ambitious capoes and soldiers from Italian Institute of Technology (IIT) under supervision of a decrepit american don-godfather from Northwestern University are successfully completed their sequential plagiaristic enterprise: http://issuu.com/...saivaldi

More news stories

Phase transiting to a new quantum universe

(Phys.org) —Recent insight and discovery of a new class of quantum transition opens the way for a whole new subfield of materials physics and quantum technologies.

When things get glassy, molecules go fractal

Colorful church windows, beads on a necklace and many of our favorite plastics share something in common—they all belong to a state of matter known as glasses. School children learn the difference between ...

A 'quantum leap' in encryption technology

Toshiba Research Europe, BT, ADVA Optical Networking and the National Physical Laboratory (NPL), the UK's National Measurement Institute, today announced the first successful trial of Quantum Key Distribution ...

Genetic code of the deadly tsetse fly unraveled

Mining the genome of the disease-transmitting tsetse fly, researchers have revealed the genetic adaptions that allow it to have such unique biology and transmit disease to both humans and animals.