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

First thing I did was check sources other than Fox News...
It is borne out  in other articles one of which I have added to the abstract.

LOL about FOX and it's only a preliminary finding; it's entirely possible this is an error in calculation. Exciting stuff if not.


As I recall this isn't the first time that faster than light particles have been suggested though - the others are supposed to be travelling faster than light from source. Wild!

The 2nd and 3ird articles say that what is called the MINOS experiment yielded the same result in 2007 but with a lower confidence level.

Here's the original article from a responsible news source, Nature Publishing, before it went through the Fox News histrionics machine:

All of the articles say the same thing including the Fox article. Sounds like you are wagging the dog (taking focus from the important notion and putting it on an irrelevant one). I have added the article you cited to the abstract.


The important notion is that perhaps the most fundamental hypothesis of quantum and macro physics is wrong.  It is too early to say definitively but one has to wonder whether this might have something to do with why quantum and macro physic have not been reconciled.

It's good stuff and it's five sigma, but it's only one lab. No one else has repeated the result yet, so it's too early to hang the flags out.
This discovery, if/when proven accurate, might also have implications for interstellar travel. I've long believed that although life is probably commonplace in the universe we're unlikely to ever come in contact due to the distances involved. I'm glad they've put it out there and invited scrutiny.This is something I'm going to follow.

Improving BBC's science coverage for once - there's a slightly different spin on this from  decent physicist...


Course, I hope those boxers are freshly washed, just in case!

Most of the interpretations in the popular press about things like "time travel" and "warp drives" are not based on science as much as conjecture.  It is important to bear that in mind.

It is also important to keep a sense of perspective here.  The reported violation amounted to 0.0000026% - pretty small by any measure.  So Captain Kirk riding these neutrinos ain't gonna get there much quicker. 


And there are a number of explanations that present themselves that would not violate special relativity:


1) The speed of light presumes a vacuum - e.g., nothing.  But space is not a vacuum, it contains a finite number of subatomic particles, electromagnetic waves, dark energy, etc., all of which affect the speed of photons propagating through space, slowing them down.  So when we measure the propagation speed of photons in a "vacuum," we are not really measuring the speed of light (which is how the constant "c" was measured).  We are measuring the speed of photons in the best vacuum we can create.  We have always presumed that is good enough, but it may turn out to be measurably slower than would massless particles that do not interact with the contents of a "vacuum" and hence which are not slowed down by such interactions.  Neutrinos of the flavor used in the experiment may be of such a nature.  So it could be that our value for "c" is in error, not that the speed of "c" is being exceeded.


2) It could be that the neutrinos left their source before they were created (quantum physics is a strange place that is not entirely understood), or the reactions producing the neutrons where not as precisely timed as believed. 


3) It could be that there was a celestial motion that was not accounted for in the experimental design that altered propagation times by the six nanoseconds of the discrepancy, resulting in a relativistic error not being accounted for.


Those are just the ideas that come immediately to my mind, and I am not an experimental physicist.  I am sure that the skeptics in the physics community will offer other explanations, better grounded in theoretical physics, in the coming weeks.


The fact that the neutrinos produced in Supernova 1987a arrived at earth at the same time as the photons, and not years earlier as this experiment says we should have expected, suggests that there is as yet an unrecognized experimental error in the design of this experiment.   I do not expect this result to stand.  I am sanguine that we will find a reason why this result is not proof that special relativity can be violated.

Nicely put.


This has a nasty taste of Cold Fusion about it - I think Jim's boxers are safe for now.

It is my understanding that the validity of Special Relativity has been verified in numerous experiments over an extended period of time so I certainly do not want to easily abandoned the theory. However, Stephen Hawking addresses it in his book, The Grand Design, and each time I read his explanation of the elapsement of time regarding it (p#'s 96-98) I am left with the feeling that he has ignored an elephant in the room.

He uses the example of a jet plane flying as a beam of light is shot from its tail to its nose. Because the plane is moving as this happens, from the perspective of an observer on the ground the beam will travel a longer distance than it will from the perspective of one in the plane. But Special Relativity says the speed of the beam will be the same for both. As such, Special Relativity requires the event to take more time from the perspective of the observer on the ground than from the perspective of the observer on the plane. Hawking uses this to conclude that according to Special Relativity time elapses slower in the moving object (the plane).

Now, if instead the beam were shot from the nose of the plane to its tail everything would work the opposite way. That is, Special Relativity would require the event to take less time from the perspective of the observer on the ground than from the perspective of the observer in the plane. In this case, using Hawking's logic, time would elapse faster in the moving object.

Therefore, Hawking's presentation seems to necessitate that time simultaneously elapses slower and faster in the moving object. Can somebody clarify his explanation or does this mean Special Relativity is nonsense? 



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