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Neutrino Data Could Spell Trouble For Relativity 279

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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  • by fermion ( 181285 ) on Sunday June 27, 2010 @09:54PM (#32712678) Homepage Journal
    Here are three things I see to be a consistent form of trouble. First, obviously as we exist, there was not an equal amount of matter and anti-matter created at the big bang. Furthermore most kludges that have been devised to explain this discrepancy have been less that stellar and have tended not to match real data very well, unless they have been tweaked to arbitrarily match real data.

    Second, we think there are infinities in the universe, and infinities tend to be catastrophic in the real world. In fact, classical mechanics met it's catastrophe in an infinity. It is unlikely that all the infinities that are created between quantum mechanics at the atomic scale and relativity at the universal scale can simply be normalized out, and black holes are not going anywhere until general relativity is fixed.

    Then of course we havethe hacked dark matter née aether to make everything work out and match the theory. In light of these three things, any new data, especially new data the violates current theories, are not problem buy jewels. Jewels that will help us refine, and supposed depose, old theories. It is why we still train scientists, and laught at those that think the world is so boring that there is nothing left to be discovered. Fortunately for those that are curious, nature has new surprises every day. I would hate to live in a world where the special theory of relativity was gospel. Such a world would so boring that I would probably be thinking not of what wonders will come, but how life can be ended.

    Especially since I squandered my youth solving those god forsaken equations.

  • by quenda ( 644621 ) on Sunday June 27, 2010 @10:04PM (#32712714)

    So there is nothing wrong with relativity, unless you find an internal inconsistency?
    It is reality at fault, for failing to follow the more elegant model.

  • by bkeahl ( 1688280 ) on Sunday June 27, 2010 @10:13PM (#32712758)
    There's always the possibility that this is just a variation of the Heisenberg uncertainty principle at work. Maybe it all works, we're just gumming it all up by trying to be "God".

    No, I'm not saying we shouldn't try, just that we may discover we're the variable.

    I remember going crazy troubleshooting a circuit with an O-Scope and the freakin' thing would more-or-less work while I was monitoring the signals. Turns out it was a capacitance issue and the probe was introducing enough capacitance to make it work, but not consistently and seemingly 'random' - but really depending upon the relative position of the scope probe and how close to the tip I was choking it when measuring. Ever since then I've had a real appreciation for Werner :).
  • by MichaelSmith ( 789609 ) on Sunday June 27, 2010 @10:49PM (#32712926) Homepage Journal

    there was not an equal amount of matter and anti-matter created at the big bang

    How do we know? Have we counted the atoms? Maybe the reckoning is still in the future. We know the universe has large scale structure, we can see it in the CMB. Maybe the antimatter is just not close to us.

  • by 0111 1110 ( 518466 ) on Sunday June 27, 2010 @11:28PM (#32713074)

    A CPT violation [] has major implications for the special theory apparently due to what SciBrad said. Is Lorentz invariance similar to Lorentz Covariance? [] To get closer to why this is relevant to the special theory take a look at the wiki for Lorentz transformation [].

    The Lorentz transformation was originally the result of attempts by Lorentz and others to explain observed properties of light propagating in what was presumed to be the luminiferous aether; Albert Einstein later reinterpreted the transformation to be a statement about the nature of both space and time, and he independently re-derived the transformation from his postulates of special relativity.

    Now, IANATP, but this seems core. We are getting back to the Michelson-Morley experiment [] for god's sake. I always figured the general theory would be the first to show cracks since it has a lot less solid experimental data behind it. But everyone is always going on about how the special theory is one of the most proven theories in all of science. So this could be big. Very big. Of course, it's a lot easier to just massage the data a little or start positing magical new forces to explain the discrepancy:

    To save CPT and Einstein's theory -- assuming they need saving -- Ann Nelson of the University of Washington in Seattle favors the introduction of a new force. [] "It's a less radical idea" than throwing out Einstein's theory of special relativity, she notes. The force Nelson envisions would endow matter with a new kind of charge that would allow it to interact differently with neutrinos than antineutrinos.

    It's a lot easier than tossing out your beloved theory or trying to build it up from scratch based on solid scientific evidence to support each individual tenet. I think the latter is what needs to be done, but it will take time. We need to re-figure out what we know absolutely. IOW, what aspects of special relativity are not contradicted by a CPT violation? If the Lorentz Transformation is called into question then so is science fiction's much beloved time dilation [] And what about the Twins Paradox? [] Yikes. This could be big. It is exciting when a major (and the special theory is about as major as it gets) scientific theory is contradicted, even in part because it means we could be on the verge of a major discovery. A real discovery based on experiment as opposed to flights of fancy, the angels dancing on pin heads inside the minds of theoretical physicists and then rationalized ex post facto quantitatively with systems of equations. Let us not forget the lesson of Ptolemy's cycles and epicycles. They predicted the motion of the planets better than Copernicus's theory, at least initially. But if Einstein is Ptolemy, who is Copernicus?

  • by JSBiff ( 87824 ) on Sunday June 27, 2010 @11:33PM (#32713108) Journal

    I wish I could find the URL now, but I remember reading once about relativity (don't remember now if it was special or general), the author showing how some of the classical mechanics formulas are basically the first few terms of Taylor Polynomials which represented the values given by relativity, so basically, as you said, they are accurate when sufficiently near 0, but the farther you move away from 0, the more the error accumulates without the 'missing' terms. Really wish I could find it now.

  • Found a source (Score:5, Interesting)

    by JSBiff ( 87824 ) on Sunday June 27, 2010 @11:42PM (#32713166) Journal

    Found a pdf of calculus notes [] on which shows what I was talking about.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday June 27, 2010 @11:49PM (#32713206)

    For those unfamiliar, here's a (somewhat crude) explanation of neutrino oscillations.

    The reason neutrinos oscillate is because their mass eigenstates are different from the flavor eigenstates. Essentially, a reaction will produce a particle with flavor F1, F2, or F3 being fixed depending on the reaction, but the particle may have mass M1, M2, or M3, which is (probably) randomly chosen. However, the particle then remains at M1, M2, or M3 and oscillates between the flavor eigenstates.

    I don't know what reactions are used to produce the neutrinos and their antiparticles at MINOS (probably just pion decay), but it seems possible to me that the reactions may favor different mass eigenstates for antineutrinos than for neutrinos (particularly in light of CP violation, which causes K-meson anti-K oscillations to behave in some ways I find conspicuously similar).

    I am of the school of thought that a "new" force is at work, likely a peculiar manifestation of the electroweak force.

  • by Schnoogs ( 1087081 ) on Sunday June 27, 2010 @11:55PM (#32713222)

    because it exposes the fact that Slashdot members love to comment on articles no matter how little they understand them. Most of the comments are hilarious...basically nonsense disguised as insight because if you can comment on advanced particle physics then clearly you understand it and therefore clearly you are smart! LOL!

  • Re:statistics fail (Score:3, Interesting)

    by ceoyoyo ( 59147 ) on Monday June 28, 2010 @12:20AM (#32713322)

    You gave a misleading confidence interval interpretation. Your statement disregards the magnitude of the observed effect.

    It's likely wrong too - the correct statement is almost certainly something more like "An experiment conducted this way would find more muon antineutrinos than muon neutrinos disappear X% of the time, more muon neutrinos than antineutrinos disappear Y% of the time and the observed numbers are equal Z% of the time," where X+Y+Z = 100, X = Y and X,Y >> Z. X = 95 is not a solution to that system.

  • Re:statistics fail (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Parlyne ( 884090 ) on Monday June 28, 2010 @12:25AM (#32713346)
    The measured effect here is asymmetric between neutrinos and antineutrinos. So, X does not equal Y in a correct confidence interval interpretation.
  • Re:CPT Symmetry (Score:3, Interesting)

    by ceoyoyo ( 59147 ) on Monday June 28, 2010 @12:35AM (#32713410)

    May change. A good amount of physics respects some or all of the subsymmetries as well.

  • by IICV ( 652597 ) on Monday June 28, 2010 @12:43AM (#32713468)

    Actually! I was looking this up at one point for some reason I forget, but:

    You cannot explain the yellowish color of gold []* without relativity. If you just use classical chemistry, it should be silvery-white, just like silver. It's also the reason why mercury is one of two elements that are liquid at room temperature; relativistic forces screw with the electrons, making them bind more weakly. Although the reasons why these things happen do come from a level outside of your bounds (it has to do with electrons, which are smaller than atoms) the effects are things everyone takes for granted.

    Gold would not be golden if it weren't for relativity! I just find that so amazing.

    *It's also how you explain the yellowish color of cesium, but that's not something most people are familiar with.

  • Re:Not trouble... (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Avtuunaaja ( 1249076 ) on Monday June 28, 2010 @01:28AM (#32713678)
    Neutrinos are not particularly more common than antineutrinos. Both should annihilate in pretty much identical amounts.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday June 28, 2010 @03:10AM (#32714018)

    How about that quantum tunneling makes electrical switches work at all? That's something everyone takes very much for granted every day.

  • by jandersen ( 462034 ) on Monday June 28, 2010 @05:33AM (#32714528)

    This article confuses things a bit, I think, in saying that this represents a problem for SR (or even GR).

    SR say that the speed of light is the same in all frames of reference; that, in fact, is all it says, when you get right down to it. The principles of relativity, homogeneity and isotrpoy are assumed in both classical mechamics and QM as well, mostly, I suspect, because we can't really see why it should not be the case.

    Where the problem is, really, is in QM - things like anti-particles are QM constructs, and so is the assumption that they weigh the same as their counterparts; the apparent observation, that anti-neutrinos have another mass than the neutrino, is very surprising for quantum mechanics and does not fit very well into the currently accepted theory.

    Perhaps it is not so strange that QM may begin to show some cracks; SR and GR make very few assumptions about anything compared to QM. It is very hard indeed to see where one could sensibly make some changes, whereas is QM, there are so many little nooks and crannies where something murky could be hiding.

  • Re:Not trouble... (Score:2, Interesting)

    by BlindRobin ( 768267 ) on Monday June 28, 2010 @05:41AM (#32714558)
    It did for me. I spent the bulk of my career happily re-working, undoing, enhancing, fixing, and generally making existing systems better and actually enjoyed it more than the new development. I propbably would have made a good archaeologist.
  • by Guignol ( 159087 ) on Monday June 28, 2010 @07:41AM (#32714964)
    Sorry, but I'm a metamathematician.... so everything you mathematicians do is just a model to me.
    Göedel's (first incompleteness) theorem does not state that there aren't any complete and consistent theories for logic, it states that any system *complex enough* (it has some requirements to be met to be true) cannot be both complete and consistent.
    Anyway I guess (sorry if I don't) I see your point but I don't think you are seeing your parent's, and (unless I missed it) your point is wrong (as in 'non sequitur', not as in 'not true' (which it might be))
    This has nothing to do with completeness of logic vs models vs reality.
    The parent was telling that relativity is much more than just a model in the way, 'epicycles' are (just) a model to make predictions to get result that should be in accordance with reality, while relativity tells you about deep 'truths', or 'concepts' about reality, and in doing so gives some tools to make predictions, but happens to be incomplete in not telling yet everything
    Anyway, it could be interesting to debate if reality can be "completely" modeled at all even getting in your completeness reference (maybe the set of rules is simple enough that any 'happening' can be 'explained/proved' (I don't think so anyway)) but the thing is, the completeness the poster talks about has nothing to do at all with the incompleteness you are talking about, in fact, to some extent, goedel's *completenes* theorem could very well be more relevant (I'm stretching).
  • Re:So basically... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Joey Vegetables ( 686525 ) on Monday June 28, 2010 @08:55AM (#32715374) Journal
    Nope. His claims are slightly exaggerated, but there is recent research strongly suggesting that the deposition of fatty plaques on the arteries are much more related to calcium and sugar overconsumption, and specifically the "fatty liver" that results from the latter. And now that researchers do make the distinction between trans-fats and naturally occurring saturated fats, they are finding a paucity of evidence implicating the latter in anything. GP has somewhat oversimplified but basically he is correct: moderate amounts of saturated fat from natural sources seem very unlikely, in an otherwise healthy individual, to cause problems, whereas high-glycemic carbohydrates are known beyond reasonable doubt to screw up metabolism and to cause obesity.
  • by jc42 ( 318812 ) on Monday June 28, 2010 @01:38PM (#32719054) Homepage Journal

    The more we learn about physics, the more 'pure' our models will get, and the closer we get to stand to those elitist mathematicians. 8)

    Yeah, but you'll never even get close to closing the gap. Physicists have a constraint that mathematicians are immune to: To qualify as "physics", your model must be tested against physical reality. Mathematics can be (and very often is) independent of any so-called "reality". A mathematical model can be shown valid even if it is shown not to model anything in our universe. In general, physical reality is irrelevant to mathematicians, and they aren't shy about stating this.

    One of the ongoing mysteries in mathematics is how often mathematical systems turn out to be applicable to various fields of science. This is sometimes a bit of an embarrassment to mathematicians, who often pride themselves on their refusal to even consider the real world. The ongoing usefulness of obscure branches of mathematics to scientists hasn't been satisfactorily explained, to my knowledge (though there are a number of interesting conjectures).

Each honest calling, each walk of life, has its own elite, its own aristocracy based on excellence of performance. -- James Bryant Conant