It would seem that the physicists at CERN have detected subatomic particles moving faster than the speed of light. This is impossible, according to Einstein’s theory of relativity. So, either we’re about to see a revolution in the way we see the universe or there is a mistake.
A meeting at Cern, the world’s largest physics lab, has addressed results that suggest subatomic particles have gone faster than the speed of light.
The team presented its work so other scientists can determine if the approach contains any mistakes.
If it does not, one of the pillars of modern science will come tumbling down.
Antonio Ereditato added “words of caution” to his Cern presentation because of the “potentially great impact on physics” of the result.
The speed of light is widely held to be the Universe’s ultimate speed limit, and much of modern physics – as laid out in part by Albert Einstein in his theory of special relativity – depends on the idea that nothing can exceed it.
Neutrinos come in a number of types, and have recently been seen to switch spontaneously from one type to another.
The Cern team prepares a beam of just one type, muon neutrinos, and sends them through the Earth to an underground laboratory at Gran Sasso in Italy to see how many show up as a different type, tau neutrinos.
In the course of doing the experiments, the researchers noticed that the particles showed up 60 billionths of a second earlier than they would have done if they had travelled at the speed of light.
This is a tiny fractional change – just 20 parts in a million – but one that occurs consistently.
The team measured the travel times of neutrino bunches some 16,000 times, and have reached a level of statistical significance that in scientific circles would count as a formal discovery.
There is good reason to believe that the speed of light is the ultimate speed limit. As any object moves faster, it gains mass. We don’t notice this because, at the speeds we move the gain is too small to be detected. As you approach the speed of light, the gain in mass is larger and larger. In order to achieve light speed the mass would increase to infinite. This is obviously impossible. This gain in mass has been detected in subatomic particles that have been accelerated to 99.99999% of the speed of light.
Scientists have speculated on particles that move faster than light called tachyons. These particles would be unable to slow down to the speed of light. Tachyons have never been detected (how would you?) and there is no good reason to suppose they exist.
But, here’s something I saw in the wikipedia article on tachyons that seems to have some relevance to this story.
In 1985 it was proposed by Chodos et al. that neutrinos can have a tachyonic nature. Today, the possibility of having standard particles moving at superluminal speeds is a natural consequence of unconventional dispersion relations that appear in the Standard-Model Extension, a realistic description of the possible violation of Lorentz invariance in field theory. In this framework, neutrinos experience Lorentz-violating oscillations and can travel faster than light at high energies.
I am going to have to work on translating that to English. Maybe this article will help.
Most likely this will turn out to be an error in measurement and I have to commend the scientists for their caution. If this turns out to be valid than maybe something like warp drive is not too far away.
- Light Speed May Have Been Exceeded By Subatomic Particle (majfud.org)
- CERN records neutrinos traveling faster than light, physicists scratch their heads (geek.com)
- Can Neutrinos Travel Faster Than Light? (presurfer.blogspot.com)
- Almost Everything We Thought We Knew About Physics Could be Wrong (crazyjew.wordpress.com)