Scientists from the CERN laboratory in Switzerland say they have been able to observe small particles called neutrinos traveling faster than the speed of light in a vacuum. If so, this would contradict perhaps the most fundamental hypothesis of micro and macro physics. It would in fact debunk the Theory of Relativity.


Per the 1st article:

Realizing full well how scandalous the results will be if they are borne out, the scientists behind OPERA, led by Antonio Ereditato of the University of Bern, have decided to make their data public, in hopes of inviting scrutiny that could make sense of such radical findings.


Per the 2nd article:


If MINOS were to confirm OPERA's find, the consequences would be enormous. "If you give up the speed of light, then the construction of special relativity falls down," says  Antonino Zichichi , a theoretical physicist and emeritus professor at the University of Bologna, Italy. Zichichi speculates that the "superluminal" neutrinos detected by OPERA could be slipping through extra dimensions in space, as predicted by theories such as string theory.


Per the 3ird article:


At least one other experiment has seen a similar effect before, albeit with a much lower confidence level. In 2007, the Main Injector Neutrino Oscillation Search (MINOS) experiment in Minnesota saw neutrinos from the particle-physics facility Fermilab in Illinois arriving slightly ahead of schedule.


Per the 5th article:


Even this small deviation would open up the possibility of time travel and play havoc with longstanding notions of cause and effect. Einstein himself — author of modern physics — said that if you could send a message faster than light, "You could send a telegram to the past."


Attempts at further verifying the finding certainly seem to be in order. A preprint of the results will be published Friday (Sept. 23) on the physics website


Update 1: A second more refined experiment at CERN has confirmed the results of the first. More experimentation is nonetheless necessary to resolve questions pertaining to the synchronization of the clocks used in the experiments. Per the article below:


Per the 1st article below:


Not only has the beam precision been improved, she says, but the statistical analysis is also more robust and has been replicated by groups within OPERA besides the original team.

Per the 2nd article below:


Wiseman says that the difficulty of the experiment and a lack of detail about clock synchronization in the initial OPERA paper may explain why so few critiques of the experiment methodology have been published so far, although more are probably on the way.


Update 2: The OPERA collaboration now says that the faster than light travel of neutrinos suggested by its experiments may have been an erroneous result of faulty GPS synchronization of the atomic clocks used in them.


But according to a statement OPERA began circulating today, two possible problems have now been found with its set-up. As many physicists had speculated might be the case, both are related to the experiment’s pioneering use of Global Positioning System (GPS) signals to synchronize atomic clocks at each end of its neutrino beam....An anonymously sourced account on Science Insider today broke the news that OPERA may have made a mistake . That report says the faulty connection can account exactly for the 60 nanosecond effect. OPERA’s official statement stops short of that, saying instead that its two possible sources of error point in opposite directions and it is still working things out.


Update 3: An independent experiment called ICARUS contradicts the faster than light travel of neutrinos supposedly detected by the OPERA experiment. Per the article:


"Our results are in agreement with what Einstein would like to have," says Carlo Rubbia, the spokesperson for ICARUS and a Nobel prizewinning physicist at CERN. Neutrinos measured by the experiment arrived within just 4 nanoseconds of the time that light travelling through a vacuum would take to cover the distance, well within the experimental margin of error.


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Replies to This Discussion

Marc I think you are too much into speculation (from a negative perspective) and not enough into experimentation (from the perspective of suspended judgement). We have two experiments with the same results. We have to home in on what is actually going on with more experimentation not shoot down what might be going on with negative speculation. Nobody is saying the results are valid so why are you complaining? Your arguments would tend to intimidate the scientific community from investigating any further. Suppose people reacted to the Michelson-Morley experiment the way you are reacting to this one. Einstein's theory of relativity would have been laughed out of the scientific community. There is a lot about science that we just don't know and we should look at the results of scientific experiments with this in mind. Remember that nobody has been able to reconcile micro and macro physics despite going to 10 dimensions. Maybe it is because there are things about one or the other that we don't know and maybe the experiment in question will reveal some of them to us. I think we differ because I have this positive perspective and you tend to have a negative one. Marc, in the name of objective research, it is the positive one that is consistent with skepticism and the scientific method and it is the positive one that has taken science to where it is today. 

Not really. I'm concerned that a lot of speculation is being bandied about over a result which has confounded a lot of scientists.

I'm not speculating anything - I'm offering up more down-to-earth explanations for what has been proposed.

OPERA is almost certainly wrong - that's the skeptical view; but equally it might be right. Right now we can't be 5-sigma certain.

Should other teams such as Fermilab produce identical results then I'll happily eat my shorts in some nice gravy.

A lot of people didn't "buy" Einstein at first (regardless of Michelson- Morley) until those results were independently verified.

The OPERA team has indeed validated its results (twice) - even down to accounting for the delays in logic gates and the speed of electrons in the semiconductors.

Parsimony (sorry to be cliched) suggests this weird result is more likely down to some error.

I don't understand your superior ground over perspectives - I'm sitting on the fence waiting right now - ready to accept a real result with baited breath. I just fail to see the point in attempting to explain something which hasn't actually happened - yet - when the evidence we do have points firmly in the opposite direction.

If the OPERA result does prove correct then we're entering a new era of physics for the sub-atomic; but I expect Einstein will remain the standard model for now regardless.

...when the evidence we do have points firmly in the opposite direction.



Parsimony (sorry to be cliched) suggests this weird result is more likely down to some error.


I don't know how many dozen times I have to say that at this point I am not prepared to say that the experiments were valid. I have offered various explanations as to why they might be invalid and repeatedly said that more experimentation (from the perspective of suspended judgement) are in order. I have even presented a formal definition of skepticism that I subscribe to. Nobody has said that he or she thinks the experiments were valid. As such, why are you presenting yourself as though somebody has and proceeding in a teaching manner to correct their supposed unscientific behavior? Very respectfully, I would suggest that some people do this to draw attention to themselves. Nobody has said the experiments were valid Marc. My position, which is very consistent with skepticism, is that the matter of the validity of the experiments must be resolved through experimentation independently from speculation that it cannot be valid due to observations associated with other experiments. That is, it must be resolved from the perspective of suspended judgment that engages rational and dispassionate reasoning as exemplified by the scientific method, and shows a willingness to consider alternative explanations without prejudice based on prior beliefs. What I think you don't like about me is that I will not compromise the importance of keeping an open mind. 


The principle of parsimony still holds for now, at least.


Are you suggesting that I disagree with this?

I don't know your mind - but I wish you would stop shouting.

The ICARUS team suggested (last I heard) that the OPERA results were invalid and that the neutrinos had not passed light speed.

At this stage, open mind or not, there is not point discussing the possibilities for an outcome when we don't know if the outcome was simply an experimental error.

The reason parsimony suggests that this is experimental error is suggested by the 1987a result. Over hundreds of light years of space, the light from the nova arrived long before the neutrinos. If the neutrino burst (about 90% of the total energy) had arrived here first (as suggested by the OPERA findings) then we would have seen a smoking gun in the data. 

It's simply not there.

To deny that I am a skeptic is offensive, John. A skeptic doubts the results until they have been proven - and then accepts them, moving on.

A willingness to accept alternative explanations is not warranted until the position has been proven beyond doubt; and in fact, it's actually counterproductive.

i agree with ur basic contention: the explanation with the highest probability of standing is, by far, experimental error.


but it doesn't keep me from being excited about the non-negligible possibilities ;-)


- kk


I fully agree. I think the real thing that some people don't like is that others enjoy the possibility of new scientific discoveries. They want to get away with "raining on parades". It is a shame but it exists in life.

John -


yep, i think as long as we understand that the people we are talking to r educated and understand the caveats, i think it is a good and beneficial thing to science - and us - to be excited about reasonable possibilities.


a lot of my friends (and more my mom's friends) r ultra pedantic about not using religious metaphors, similes, etc. but in a similar way, people who know me know that if i say something like "soul" i mean it metaphorically. it's understood.



I certainly was not shouting and I don't know how you could have thought I was from what I wrote. The 1987 result that you referenced could have established no more than that the neutrinos did not travel FTL under those circumstances. It could not have established that neutrinos cannot travel FTL under any circumstances. Accordingly, your reference to it exemplifies the reason that experiments should be conducted from the perspective of suspended judgement. In another comment I said:


Astrophysicist Bernard Haisch who is a former editor of The Astrophysical Journal and The Journal of Scientific Exploration defined a true skeptic as:

“One who practices the method of suspended judgment, engages in rational and dispassionate reasoning as exemplified by the scientific method, shows willingness to consider alternative explanations without prejudice based on prior beliefs, and who seeks out evidence and carefully scrutinizes its validity.”


You wrote: A willingness to accept alternative explanations is not warranted until the position has been proven beyond doubt; and in fact, it's actually counterproductive.


I think this demonstrates a deep rooted difference between your perspective and mine. To me, in the definition above "willingness to consider alternative explanations without prejudice based on prior beliefs" refers to a mentallity that the researcher should have going into experimentation not one that can only result from the outcome of experimentation.


It is clear to me that this is a fundamental difference in our viewpoints and it is clear to me that in this difference is the reason you have been attacking me so much.


Per the definition above the willingness to consider alternative explanations without prejudice based on prior beliefs must be received in the context of existing prior to any experimentation for, otherwise, the associated experiments could not be fairly interpreted (interpreted without bias).

ha ha, it feels that way, yes. but this isn't the first time something amazing was reported only to be more completely understood later to be a normative event.


John - you say you are not willing to say that an FTL event has occurred. You are a wise man, my friend :-).


i've withheld my own suspicions thus far, but i'll offer a clue as to what i'm thinking. i think that the answer to this result lies either in experimental error or geometry. i mean, i think the "flight" path of this particle cannot be fully characterized under the Standard Model. Doesn't mean the entire model has to fall, just that we are peering deeper into the inner workings of nature. historically, it is when these kinds of weird results come up that major advances in physics occur. this is exciting, my friends. yes, cold fusion fever. difference is, CERN is behind this, not a man in his basement. ;-)


this reminds me of the oddity of the gravitational field along the "flight" path of one of our long range spacecraft (I forget her name) now pulling away from the sun. gr cannot characterize it quite right so people are looking at every possible explanation. the hamiltonian on this thing doesn't add up. this anomaly has been confirmed by another spacecraft as well, i believe. i think stuff is about to happen.


oh yea - "pulling away from the sun" should probably say experiencing an acceleration less than zero, if you happen to be a semantic natzi. :-)

Einstein was, as you put it, a man in a basement when he came up with relativity - which is ironic given what we're discussing. ;-)

CERN isn't behind this Kir, it's a team at CERN - and another team on the ICARUS receiver have reported the opposite finding. Neither team has published anything.

The point to all this is nothing has actually be proven yet - it's all just supposition brought about by some overzealous reporting.

The last time this happened we ended up thinking that MMR vaccine caused autism: and look how that turned out.



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