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Neutrino Data Could Spell Trouble For Relativity 279

Posted by kdawson
from the stay-put-will-you dept.
Science News has an exploration of the deeper implications of neutrino oscillation, one experimental confirmation of which we discussed last month. "The new findings could even signal a tiny breakdown of Einstein's theory of special relativity. ... MINOS [for Main Injector Neutrino Oscillation Search] found that during a 735-kilometer journey from Fermilab to the Soudan Underground Laboratory in Minnesota, about 37 percent of muon antineutrinos disappeared — presumably morphing into one of the other neutrino types — compared with just 19 percent of muon neutrinos. ... That difference in transformation rates suggests a difference in mass between antineutrinos and neutrinos. ... With the amount of data collected so far, there's just a 5% probability that the two types of particles weigh the same."
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Neutrino Data Could Spell Trouble For Relativity

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  • Not trouble... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by phantomfive (622387) on Sunday June 27, 2010 @09:38PM (#32712618) Journal
    This isn't trouble, we already know there are problems with the theory, we just don't have any measurements that give us an idea of how to fix it (of course the theory works well enough in most cases). Any measurements like this that give us something unexpected are great things, they can give us a more accurate picture of how the world is, help the theory become more accurate. Always look for the flaws in your theory, for that is where the greatest discoveries are hidden.
  • by onionman (975962) on Sunday June 27, 2010 @09:45PM (#32712642)

    It's already widely known that Relativity is just a model... much like the rest of physics. It's extremely accurate and useful for dealing with many areas, but breaks down somewhat when dealing with very very small things. Hence the great desire to develop a more unified theory! So, the summary is a little bit on the sensationalist side of the street.

    The research is very important, though!

  • by JoshuaZ (1134087) on Sunday June 27, 2010 @09:48PM (#32712652) Homepage
    Ok. I read the article and I'm still confused. I understand why different mass for particles and their antiparticles would violate CPT, which is obviously major. But I don't see how this violates special relativity. Why does this violate special relativity?
  • Re:Not trouble... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by jd (1658) <imipak&yahoo,com> on Sunday June 27, 2010 @09:50PM (#32712658) Homepage Journal

    Since every theory is a simplified model, every theory has problems. Sometimes the model works just fine at the resolution and scope for which it is intended (eg: Hooke's Law). It's the cases where you know it's broken within the bounds it should be working for, but you don't know where or why, that are the exciting ones. In the case of relativity, we know it's incompatible with QM at some level that includes gravity but may extend beyond that. We now know that it also has problems with neutrino mass. It may be that relativity can be fixed - at least for neutrinos - but either relativity or QM (or maybe both) =must= break down entirely within their intended scope in a way that is irretrievable. But nobody knows which, when, why or how.

    But this is the fun of science! Science would have no purpose if it weren't for the ferreting out of the glitches and flaws in theories, fixing them and testing them to destruction all over again. We learn so little by being right in comparison to what we learn when we're wrong.

  • by bertok (226922) on Sunday June 27, 2010 @10:15PM (#32712764)

    It's already widely known that Relativity is just a model... much like the rest of physics. It's extremely accurate and useful for dealing with many areas, but breaks down somewhat when dealing with very very small things. Hence the great desire to develop a more unified theory! So, the summary is a little bit on the sensationalist side of the street.

    The research is very important, though!

    That's a gross misunderstanding of the problems of relativity.

    "Just a model" is not what physicists seek. The aim is to seek laws of physics that are absolute, inviolable, and a complete description of space, time, and mass-energy. Some of our models are basically there, like the "conservation" laws, which are based on rigorous mathematics.

    The problem with relativity isn't that it's "just a model", it's that it is explicitly known to be incomplete. It simply doesn't "extend" down to small scales. This was known by Einstein himself, he sought to complete his theory, but failed.

  • Re:So basically... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by AHuxley (892839) on Sunday June 27, 2010 @10:16PM (#32712774) Homepage Journal
    Snouty the breakfast pig is fine, its the chemical preservatives thats seems to catch up with people.
  • Re:Not trouble... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Zixaphir (845917) <Jinira@@@hotmail...com> on Sunday June 27, 2010 @10:17PM (#32712780) Homepage

    But this is the fun of science! Science would have no purpose if it weren't for the ferreting out of the glitches and flaws in theories, fixing them and testing them to destruction all over again. We learn so little by being right in comparison to what we learn when we're wrong.

    Wow, if only this applied to programming.

  • by Sycraft-fu (314770) on Sunday June 27, 2010 @10:21PM (#32712804)

    They are wrong on a universal scale. This has been proven, and indeed it is where things like relativity start to come in. We have measured things that go against the predictions that Newton's laws make. That would mean they've been falsified. ...

    So why the hell do we still teach them?

    Well because on the scale we normally work on, Newton's laws simply and accurately describe how things works. You can go out yourself and test them in any number of ways and you'll find that as accurate as you want to measure, they are dead on accurate. When dealing with the scale of things humans normally do, they are an excellent set of rules for calculations.

    Thus more accurately put they aren't wrong, they are just a simplification that works within certain bounds. They do not fully describe motion and gravitation on every level, in every case. They break down for very large and very small scales. However they are an excellent simplification for anything less than, say, a planet in size and anything above the atomic level. That would include basically everything you are ever likely to work with.

    So they are very much correct, all you have to do is put a couple constraints on their use.

    Simplified models like that are wonderful too. Even if they don't explain everything, they allow for calculations to be done in an easy fashion on things we care about. Some day we may discover a truly complete law for motion, that covers all cases from the smallest to the largest. at all speeds, in all frames of reference and so on. There may be nothing left out. It also may be several pages of dense calculations. Instead of that, when dealing with a normal, human scale, we'll still use Newton's laws, something you can express in a couple characters and work out in your head if you are good. An exceedingly useful and accurate simplification.

    A similar example would be the Ideal Gas law. When you look at it, it is clearly wrong. Reason is you plug in numbers for something like H2O at room temperature and the result is not what you actually get. It does not show it becoming a liquid. Yet again we use it. Why? Because so long as the substance you are talking about is a gas in the temperature and pressure range you are working at, the Ideal Gas law gives you a very easy, highly accurate, way to calculate things about it. It is a simplification, hence why it is called "Ideal Gas" instead of "Real Gas". That doesn't mean that it isn't accurate and useful within some constraints.

    So I can see the same being true with relativity. While we have already found cases it doesn't explain (see quantum gravitation), that doesn't mean it isn't useful within certain constraints. As our knowledge progresses, we will know precisely what those are.

  • by onionman (975962) on Sunday June 27, 2010 @10:45PM (#32712904)

    It's already widely known that Relativity is just a model... much like the rest of physics. It's extremely accurate and useful for dealing with many areas, but breaks down somewhat when dealing with very very small things. Hence the great desire to develop a more unified theory! So, the summary is a little bit on the sensationalist side of the street.

    The research is very important, though!

    That's a gross misunderstanding of the problems of relativity.

    "Just a model" is not what physicists seek. The aim is to seek laws of physics that are absolute, inviolable, and a complete description of space, time, and mass-energy. Some of our models are basically there, like the "conservation" laws, which are based on rigorous mathematics.

    The problem with relativity isn't that it's "just a model", it's that it is explicitly known to be incomplete. It simply doesn't "extend" down to small scales. This was known by Einstein himself, he sought to complete his theory, but failed.

    Sorry, but I'm a mathematician... so everything you physicists do is just a model to me. Ever since I realized (via Goedel) that there aren't even any complete and consistent theories for logic, I sort of figured that there would never be a complete and consistent theory for physics. (Let me know if you find one.) In the mean time, I'm still really impressed with the work physicists do! I really should finish working through Gravitation some day... that's cool stuff.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday June 27, 2010 @11:54PM (#32713216)

    First, we don't obviously exist. For all I know, I am a figment of my imagination, as are you. Evil demons, brains in vats, etc. We assume we exist.

    Cogito, ergo sum. You need to define existence, because you seem to take it as "as I perceive myself right now" whereas most philosophy takes it as "I'm conscious and experience things". Existence, from a philosophical standpoint, isn't really that hard to prove. Explaining it is the hard part.

    Second, who says there are infinities in the universe? In the actual physical universe that is. I don't.

    Our current theories say there are. And they're obviously flawed, so you're welcome to improve upon them. You'd need to back up your assertions though, which doesn't seem like your strong suit.

    Third, what?

    Exactly what I was thinking when I read your post. Please, please revisit the philosophical works you read, and read them with an eye to what their authors actually meant, and not what you wanted them to mean.

  • Re:Not trouble... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by raving griff (1157645) on Monday June 28, 2010 @12:14AM (#32713306)

    Well, just as we cannot say with certainty that a law that has not yet been unproven is correct, we also cannot say with certainty that a law that has not yet been unproven is incorrect. Assuming the universe operates on some form of natural law (that is, assuming that all events are not entirely random and arbitrary), then the laws of the universe are finite and therefore describable.

    The issue is not that we cannot be right, because it is possible that we can find one that is right; the issue, rather, is that we have no way of irrevocably confirming a law. We may only watch the evidence increase while waiting on the possibility of an event that disproves it.

  • by Chris Burke (6130) on Monday June 28, 2010 @12:19AM (#32713318) Homepage

    Then of course we havethe hacked dark matter née aether to make everything work out and match the theory.

    Dark matter is no more a "hack" than expolanets around stars with slight wobbles are "hacks". Omigosh, you need a planet there to "match the theory"! Or is the planet a prediction based on observation and an already well-working theory? Yes, that's what it is. We use the theory of gravity to infer the existence of masses.

    People have tried to modify the theory to avoid having to infer mass in places where we couldn't directly see any. It nearly worked for a while, until further evidence showed that you couldn't just adjust the magnitude of gravitational attraction and make things work (like MOND), you had to have gravity pointing in completely different directions, for different cases! We've come as close as we probably can to directly seeing the dark matter (if it's WIMPs) via gravitational lensing.

    In any event, you're absolutely right that new data that shows weaknesses of existing theory is very exciting, because that's where new physics is discovered.

    I'm just sayin', this is basically what's already happened to dark-matter-free theories.

  • Re:Not trouble... (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Zixaphir (845917) <Jinira@@@hotmail...com> on Monday June 28, 2010 @01:00AM (#32713544) Homepage
    Yes, but the main problem with programming, especially FLOSS programming, is everyone wants to amp up the program with features while minimal time is spent bug testing and correcting flaws, as developers finish one feature and move onto the next. Obviously, where there's a budget for it, this gets done, but bugs tend to... go over looked, especially in projects that are hobby-based in nature, like many FLOSS programs.
  • by joe_frisch (1366229) on Monday June 28, 2010 @01:43AM (#32713728)

    If the universe contained areas of matter and areas of antimatter, you would see annihilation radiation at the boundaries. I think (not completely sure) that would be detectable for a wide variety of different sized regions. As another poster points out, it would be difficult to explain such a separation without introducing new physics.

  • Re:CPT Symmetry (Score:2, Insightful)

    by sjames (1099) on Monday June 28, 2010 @03:12AM (#32714030) Homepage

    If the anti-particle and particle have different masses, the physics will be different.

  • by JamesP (688957) on Monday June 28, 2010 @06:33AM (#32714744)

    Sorry, but I'm a mathematician... so everything you physicists do is just a model to me. Ever since I realized (via Goedel) that there aren't even any complete and consistent theories for logic, I sort of figured that there would never be a complete and consistent theory for physics. (Let me know if you find one.) In the mean time, I'm still really impressed with the work physicists do! I really should finish working through Gravitation some day... that's cool stuff.

    You're right. Physics are one of the fields where science shines best, but still I think they read more into it than they should.

    That, still, Relativity may be a model (in the math sense) but it's much more about the ideas (codified into math, of course). The big breakthough of Einstein was not doing the math, but interpreting what was being seen correctly.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday June 28, 2010 @06:58AM (#32714826)

    Science is fantastic in that it assumes that it will eventually be proven wrong. Unlike pseudo-science, there is hardly ever a "scientific consensus" - merely interesting ideas that run counter to accepted teachings.

  • Re:Not trouble... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by mangu (126918) on Monday June 28, 2010 @07:50AM (#32714994)

    bugs tend to... go over looked, especially in projects that are hobby-based in nature, like many FLOSS programs.

    This happens in commercial software as well. When you buy the next "improved" version they get paid, fixing the current version gives them costs without revenue.

  • by vlm (69642) on Monday June 28, 2010 @09:36AM (#32715654)

    For example, take the commonly known Math equation 1+1=2. This appears to be correct to the Math student, but then the Physics student comes along and says "Umm, exactly HOW do you expect me to believe that 1 apple + 1 orange = 2 slashdot Trolls?". It's how the equation is applied that determines if it is correct or not.

    Not a proof because you're mixing units.

    No better than trying to convince a math major that 1 + 1 = 2 is wrong because 1 degree of arc + 1 radian of arc does not equal 2 gradients of arc. Or that stating binary 1 plus binary 1 actually equals binary 10 so 1 + 1 = 2 is false.

  • by Hythlodaeus (411441) on Monday June 28, 2010 @01:05PM (#32718300)

    "Just a model" is not what physicists seek. The aim is to seek laws of physics that are absolute, inviolable, and a complete description of space, time, and mass-energy.

    And when you have what you think are laws that are absolute, inviolable, and complete, what you will have will be a model. The map is not the territory.

"Now this is a totally brain damaged algorithm. Gag me with a smurfette." -- P. Buhr, Computer Science 354

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