Physicists: Did neutrinos break the speed of light?

Physicists: Did neutrinos break the speed of light?
Professors of Physics Julia Thom-Levy and Eanna Flanagan prepare for an open discussion in Clark Hall about recent experimental results that suggest that neutrinos may travel faster than the speed of light. Photo: Lindsay France

( -- The revolutionary news that an experiment measured particles traveling faster than the speed of light drew varied ages and backgrounds to a standing-room only physics department forum, "Faster Than the Speed of Light?," in Clark Hall at the Cornell University Nov. 17.

The experiment that triggered the excitement was simple: Scientists at the accelerator in Switzerland fired a beam of neutrinos 730 kilometers through the mountains to the underground Gran Sasso Laboratory in Italy and its enormous OPERA neutrino detector.

Neutrinos are expected to travel extremely close to the of and would make it to Gran Sasso in 2.4 milliseconds, the time it takes a fly to flap its wings once, said Julia Thom-Levy, assistant professor of physics -- but the observation showed that they were 60 nanoseconds faster than light could have traveled.

Researchers calculated the speed by measuring the time difference between the neutrinos' departure from CERN and their detection in OPERA, with an accuracy within 1 nanosecond. Experimenters used a GPS satellite system, refined with Cesium clocks, for the timing, a procedure that is also used in .

But working with neutrinos is extremely difficult. Independent experimental confirmation is needed and will be provided by a similar in the United States over the next few years. If OPERA's observation of neutrino speed is correct, said physics professor Eanna Flanagan, it presages a physics revolution and requires a new .

In the two months since the OPERA results were posted on the scientific database arXiv, more than 100 papers have offered explanations. But none of them satisfied physics professor Yuval Grossman. "Physics becomes more compact and more beautiful as we unify forces, and these explanations would make physics uglier," he said.

However, Grossman noted that while the commonly held understanding is that no object can travel faster than the speed of light in a vacuum (186,282 miles per second), what general relativity actually says is that there is a maximum velocity beyond which nothing can go. Since nothing has ever out-raced light, its speed has been assumed to be the maximum possible velocity. But what if neutrinos are faster?

"The laws of physics wouldn't change, only the universal constant," said Grossman.

One of the strongest arguments against OPERA's results is their conflict with the measurement of neutrinos emitted by Supernova 1987A. If neutrinos really traveled faster than the speed of light, the supernova's neutrinos should have arrived in 1983, not 1987.

But as one audience member pointed out, perhaps they did arrive in 1983 and no one noticed. Or perhaps the discrepancy of results is because OPERA's neutrinos traveled through solid rock, not the vacuum of space.

Still, while some current theories, such as those suggesting extra dimensions, might be able to incorporate neutrinos going faster than the speed of light, Grossman contended that they couldn't explain the amount of speed seen with OPERA.

Last month, OPERA researchers repeated the experiment with shorter neutrino bursts to eliminate one possible cause of experimental error; the still arrived faster than they should have. The researchers subsequently submitted their paper to the peer-reviewed Journal of High Energy Physics. After the forum, many of the more than 150 attendees lingered, talking enthusiastically in small groups. Because despite all the reasons OPERA's results could be wrong, as one audience member said, "in , we never say we know anything absolutely because although it might have a low probability, that probability is not zero."

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Nov 23, 2011
I still think the most likely reason for their findings being wrong is the clocks at either end being slightly out of synch.
Not just because of the GPS satellite correction, maybe the earth's gravity is slightly different at each location, causing time to warp slightly.

What do I know, I'm just a computing student with an interest.

Nov 23, 2011
I still think the most likely reason for their findings being wrong is the clocks at either end being slightly out of synch.
Not just because of the GPS satellite correction, maybe the earth's gravity is slightly different at each location, causing time to warp slightly.

What do I know, I'm just a computing student with an interest.

Or they haven't correctly measured the delay between the sensor being triggered and the time being logged.

If the research is correct, and the neutrinos did make it from A to B faster than light, then I think there is a possibility of some quantum effect being involved. The neutrinos may have tunnelled part of the distance.

Nov 23, 2011
-- James Ph. Kotsybar

Oh, little neutral one of tiny mass,
who flies anomolously from the sun,
you zip through matter photons cannot pass:
Could this explain the races you have won?

From Einstein, few believe that it could be
that any mass can go as fast as light --
its deemed complete impossibility,
assuming Relativity is right.

If proved, the implications terrible,
will give complacent physicists a scare.
In terms that twist the ancient parable
its you thats tortoise; the photons the hare.

It seems, though steady, light cant keep up pace.
You oscillate, and yet you win the race.

Nov 23, 2011
Without dense aether theory it's virtually impossible to decide, on which side the truth is, because the problem is rather complex and you have no robust illustrative clue for its solution. Or you can just wait few (actually many, I'm afraid) years, until the physicists will get some consensus. Actually, even my common water surface model cannot be used in this case, because neutrinos aren't the type of solitons, which could be observable at the normal water surface. You need to use generalized supersymmetric model of space-time, which is common at the phase interface of supercritical fluids. This interface is behaving similarly to water surface, but because both phases differ only slightly with their density, they enable to describe the physical situation in vacuum more faithfully.

Nov 23, 2011
Because the energy density of vacuum is very high with compare to both energy density of photons, both neutrinos, we should use the phase interface of supercritical fluids for such cases. This interface serves as a 3D model of 4D space-time brane, which we are living at. This analogy can be generalized to higher dimensions if we imagine the phase interface as a membranes of hyperdimensional foam.

The main trick is, at the phase interface of supercritical fluids a two kind of solitons is always spreading. These solitons result from interference (coupling) of transverse waves and longitudinal waves. We have only one phase interface, we can have only one kind of transverse waves. But because we have two phases, we get two kinds of solitons here. One type of solitons will usually move in slower speed, than the speed of ripples at the phase interface and it corresponds the photons, the another one will move in higher speed, than the transverse waves and it corresponds the neutrinos.

Nov 23, 2011
This idealized model has its some limitations, when the Brownian noise at the phase interface are taken into account. If we consider the quantum noise of vacuum (CMBR noise), then the photons will move with lower speed, than the CMBR photons and the neutrinos will move faster, than CMBR photons. For photons and neutrinos of energy density lower, than the energy density of CMBR photons (gravitons) this decency will get reversed. From this model therefore follows, the neutrinos will move in subluminal speed, until their energy isn't higher than the energy density of CMBR photons, after then they will move in superluminal speed. The speed of neutrinos will become proportional to their energy after then. This model is supported with existing experiments and it can be quantified with particle simulations of phase interface of supercritical fluid.

Nov 23, 2011
As an approximative example of this model you can consider the photons as an analogy of solitons, which are forming at the water surface at the coastal areas. And the neutrinos will corresponds so called the Falaco solitons, which are forming in underwater like the half sliced vortex rings.


Because the Falaco solitons are underwater density solitons, they tend to move with speed of underwater sound waves, which is much higher, than the speed of surface ripples. But because they're attached to surface, they cannot move too fast, so they propagate just with slightly higher speed, than the speed of capillary waves at the water surface (21 cm/second, or so).

The vortex model is good for illustrative explanations of neutrino oscillations and Majorana particle model, which plays the crucial role in superluminal motion of neutrinos. The underwater vortex are chiral, but their helicity is very subtle, so it can be switched with random fluctuations

Nov 23, 2011
I wish the neutrinos turn out to actually have beaten the speed of light. But I simply can't help feeling it's just something in the timing. My only hope is that it's about neutrinos. They have been the odd man out before. They oscillate, and just sort-of don't interact with matter. If anything, neutrinos are a good candidate to open our eyes to, uh, post-Einsteinian thinking.

But if it turns out that the detector simply is 18 meters off its spot on the blueprint...

Nov 23, 2011
They oscillate, and just sort-of don't interact with matter.
If particle doesn't interact with matter, it just means, it doesn't interact with gravity field around material particles in similar way, like the photons do. Which means, the neutrinos can essentially ignore even the macroscopic black holes, which couldn't be possible, if they couldn't move in superluminal speed at least a bit.

Because neutrinos are ignoring the EM charge of atoms and their virtual photons which are mediating it, they ignore the CMBR noise, which means, they can move a bit faster through it. The ignorance of neutrinos has therefore wide implications, because the weak fields of vacuum are of the same nature, like the stronger fields inside of matter. If you ignore one, you cannot not to ignore the others.

Nov 23, 2011
I wish the neutrinos turn out to actually have beaten the speed of light. But I simply can't help feeling it's just something in the timing.

Agreed. I would love if a new area of physics opened up, but I just can't muster enough optimism to counter my common sense in this area.

c is a value which pops out of Maxwell's basic equations on electromagnetism. Much of modern physics, tested to a high degree of accuracy, is based on mathematical derivatives of those equations.

The equations break horribly for values greater than c. It's hard to imagine how they work so well when applied to all manner of different physics (Relativity, etc), and yet are fundamentally broken with regards to c.

Especially with the measurement being ever so slightly greater than the *exact* value of c we expect, I'm betting on sub-light neutrinos.

I wish that's wrong though!

More here if interested:
Point-five Past Lightspeed

Nov 23, 2011
3 points:
1) According to Grossman, "...what general relativity actually says is that there is a maximum velocity beyond which nothing can go. Since nothing has ever out-raced light, its speed has been assumed to be the maximum possible velocity... The laws of physics wouldn't change, only the universal constant." This point is absolutely right.

2) Temple states that "c is a value which pops out of Maxwell's equations." (See Above) This is true. Maxwell, however, only states this to be the speed at which light travels. He says nothing of it being a "universal speed limit." Lorentz/Einstein made that assumption in writing gamma as sqrt(1-v^2/c^2). If there's a faster speed, it'd replace "c" the equation.

3) Similarly, throughout QED the "new" maximum speed would be added in place of "c." Trouble is, QED is accurate to within a hair's width relative the width of the continental US. A change in any way would diminsh the theory's accuracy. Where this leaves us, weiss ich nicht.

Nov 23, 2011
The w boson decays to neutrino and a lepton (or mesons). The lepton carries charge. The neutrino carries mass but is chargless (and not in the neutral charge way such as is the case for photons). The neutrino is energyless radiation (if it can be called that, radiation is energetic). This little energyless mass travels through our 3Ds at a speed faster than light.

But Einstein said electromagnetic energy can matterialize, and the reverse, that matter can dematterialize into pure energy.

The neutrino would flip Einstein on his head. Here we have a mass (however negligible) that is not energetic, but how can this be if e=mc^2? According to this nothing without energy can be massive.

The neutrino proves the physicality of matter. Disproves the electric universe. There is a physical mass gradient. We know Einstein is correct up to a point. The more energy that bit of mass acquires the more massive it becomes.

The takeaway? No charged particles can surpass lightspeed.

Nov 23, 2011
Why would that chargless (em energyless) neutrino be restricted to the speed of a photon (em energy carrier)?

It can't be. The two are polar opposites. The photon is energetic and massless while The neutrino is energyless and massive.

What is complexing to me is the mechanism that accelerates them to such great speeds. They aren't charged so the accelerant is not em energy. Weak nuclear force doesn't exist. The lack of strong nuclear force means the nuclear force is weakened (weak force). Neutrinos are resultant particles of weakened nuclear force.

This leaves the strong force (nuclear gravity). Gravity must propagate space at a greater speed than em energy.

It is only logical that space grows faster than light fills it. If space didn't expand faster than light there would be no space for light to spread into.

Gravity (which is the effect of strong nuclear at distance) reaches further than light in same time. Space grows faster than light.

There must be a gravity wave acceleratin

Nov 23, 2011
g neutrinos to the speed space spreads.

The universe had to grow faster than light or light wouldn't have anywhere to travel.

The speed space spreads is greater than speed of light.

Neutrinos aren't restricted to lightspeed because they aren't electromagnetic.

Nov 23, 2011
If it is found that a neutrino characteristic is that they are electromagnetic (containing a tiny charge) then they are in the tach-Y-on league. Tacked on Gamma. If electromagnetic particles exceed their charge speed they are defying logic.

An anology would be a rotating car wheel. Start the rotation and it is going clockwise. When the speed of rotation exceeds your ability to process the visual information the tire starts going counterclockwise. Now this is due to your ability to intake visual information. The tire is still going clockwise your brain is getting bits of information and drawing an image of what is happening.

If charge exceeded itself it wouldn't be an illusion such as the tire spinning in anti time (counterclockwise). The charge would get into a spot in space before itself. It would literally arrive in the past. Arrive before arrival.

Nov 23, 2011
If the sun suddenly disappeared my bet would be that the earth would leave its orbit before the visual information (photons) arrived.

Gravity is faster than light. The graviton beats a photon in a race. Wager on that.

Nov 24, 2011
Neutrinos are accelerated by dark energy. Dark energy causes space to expand. Gravity causes space between two objects to decrease. Dark energy is a sort of antigravity. It causes the space between two objects to increase.

The release of strong nuclear force causes gravitational release (the particle dematerialized, nothing there to be attracted to). Gravity is reversed and is driving decay away from the dematerialized particle.

Antigravity causes distance between particles to increase. Dark energy causes distance between particles to increase.

Dark energy may be accelerating these neutrinos.

Dark energy is antigravity IMO.

Nov 24, 2011
Dark energy is the energy of space formation. Whether it be between two objects (like space between galaxies) or universal space limit parameters. Space must have always existed for energy to spread into, or, the space emerged at the time energy did if this is the case then the formation of space must be superluminal. If this is the case then any particle not negatively (such as an electron) positively (such as a positron) or neutrally (such as a photon) charged is allowed to propagate at the speed of space and is not restricted to em speed.

The neutrino fits the criteria.

Nov 24, 2011
I think a step back to the basics is in order here.

The inflationary period post Big Bang is said to have exceeded lightspeed. What can be learned here?

For starters, space is not restricted to lightspeed. :)

Nov 24, 2011
I still think the most likely reason for their findings being wrong is the clocks at either end being slightly out of synch.
Not just because of the GPS satellite correction, maybe the earth's gravity is slightly different at each location, causing time to warp slightly.

What do I know, I'm just a computing student with an interest.

Standard atomic clocks (cesium clocks) do not rely on gravity. The error bars for the clocks and the physical locations of the detector and emitters are the very first thing that would be checked. The chances this is the source of the error (and having not already been accounted for in the published 1 ns error bar) is so low as to be negligible. That's not where the problem is.

Nov 24, 2011
An interseting take, Turitopsis. I mean, is everything IN space following expansion, sort of like a wake behind a boat... I shall have to process that concept...

Nov 24, 2011
Turi has presented a challenging analysis - well done. One question it generates however is whether space itself (Minkowskian spacetime) is a function of energy-matter itself - like Cartesian coordinates are an idealised reference framework, "space" may be a cognitive function. Also, there is no such thing as "uninformed" energy - all energy propagates intentionality in the form of attributional modulation dependent on its source characteristics (what Dennett would call its "design intention") Informed energy is the only type that exists. The existence of "space" also intrinsically implies boundary - and for a boundary to exist there must be "after boundary" - is this a dimensional phase transition into "different" space? The concept of infinity lends itself more to esoteric philosophical than empirical scientific analysis. The material-energetic represents the physicalisation of potentiality into potency - informed energy into matter-energy complexes - the "atomos" is still unknown...

Nov 24, 2011
Interesting from an existentialist POV. But I notice your examples are "either/or, one-or-the-other" - ish. What about a NUMBER of factors being part of the equation? Kind of an 'either/and/both/something-else' type of situation (sorry, thaty's the closest my cognitive abilities can come to describing my meaning).
Regardless, I am keen on the informed energy concept. It implies an "Intelligence" imbued in - everything - from the smallest nuclear particle to galaxies and beyond. It leaves me - breathless - in awe.
I want to establish that I am NOT a creationist or "intelligent designer". More that the "universe makes it up as it goes-along" thinker. with just a few simple rules to guide it... Gonna be funny when that "intelligence" decides to change the rules (if it hasn't already)...

Nov 25, 2011
Dense aether theory models the space-time with the water surface. At the water surface a two kind of solitons is always spreading - the surface solitons corresponding the photons and the underwater ones, called the Falaco solitons, which would correspond the neutrinos.
Try to imagine, you're a silly bubble, which is sitting at the water surface and all information, which it can detect is mediated with the surface waves only. Each soliton will make the water surface undulating and more large actually, so it would behave like area of space-time, which is slowing the another waves, travelling through it. From this perspective, both surface solitons, both underwater ones will behave like the particles exhibiting gravity and inertia. But their behaviour with respect to speed of surface wave spreading will be quite different. The surface solitons will always recede the surface ripples, whereas these underwater ones will tend to advance them.

Nov 25, 2011
The water surface model is primitive with respect to the fact, it's only three-dimensional and it doesn't account into quantization. The more general model of phase interface is provided with supercritical fluids. At the narrow range of conditions and interesting effects will emerge: instead of forming flat surface a hyperdimensional mixture of both phases will appear, where the density fluctuations are playing the role of new generation of particles, forming kind of "hyper-fluid".


The formation and spreading of surface solitons inside of such 3D surface will be much more complex, than at the free water surface. I presume, it's a much closer to the actual behaviour of simplest particles, like the photons and neutrinos. In particular, it would enable to model the chirality and spin for both types of solitons, while it still remains classical system.

Nov 25, 2011
Maybe there is something in vacuum that will slow light down a little more then neutrino's.

Nov 27, 2011
Or perhaps the discrepancy of results is because OPERA's neutrinos traveled through solid rock, not the vacuum of space.

It seems to me that Einstein had it right and all you have to do is change space to change the maximum speed. Gravity bends space and there is definitely a bit of gravity and matter when traveling through the earth.

Nov 27, 2011
OK, here are two feasible explanations of relatively large discrepancy of supernova neutrino observations and OPERA neutrino observations.

1) The first explanation says, the neutrinos in OPERA experiment are moving faster, because they're moving through (gravity field of) rock, at presence of which the difference in speed of neutrinos and photons becomes more pronounced

2) The second explanation says, the neutrinos in OPERA experiments are moving faster, because they're of higher energy, than the supernova neutrinos. I do prefer the second explanation, because of AWT and some (though still quite sparse) experimental support.

Apparently, both hypothesis can be distinguished easily in the future experiments.

Nov 27, 2011
"The laws of physics wouldn't change, only the universal constant," said Grossman."

.....and probably will. I suspect that Einstein simply grabbed the photon because nothing else was then available.

Nov 30, 2011
Certain type of Neutrinos has been long known to be superluminal:
"The Neutrino as a Tachyon," Phys. Lett. B 150 (6), 431-435 (1985)

Nov 30, 2011
Certain type of Neutrinos has been long known to be superluminal
Are supposed, to be more specific. We didn't detected these neutrinos yet.

And neutrino isn't really a tachyon, it cannot move with arbitrary speed, being attached to our space-time brane in similar way, like the Falaco soliton at the water surface. The example of true tachyons are gravitational waves/gravitons, which manifest with CMBR noise. They're traveling with speed at least ten thousand times higher, than the speed of light.

Dec 04, 2011
if we do the same experiment in the same way and get same result, is it confirmation? it is simply equivalent to say that human error is not there. but same experimental error if exists will continue to be there. if we measure a line of actually 10m length with a wrongly calibrated scale and get 11m as length, we will get the same answer even if it is done with same scale 100 times!

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