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CERN Experiment Indicates Faster-Than-Light Neutrinos 1088

intellitech writes "Puzzling results from Cern, home of the LHC, have confounded physicists — because it appears subatomic particles have exceeded the speed of light. Neutrinos sent through the ground from Cern toward the Gran Sasso laboratory 732km away seemed to show up a few billionths of a second early. The results will soon be online to draw closer scrutiny to a result that, if true, would upend a century of physics. The lab's research director called it 'an apparently unbelievable result.'" Also on the AP wire, as carried by PhysOrg, which similarly emphasizes that the data are preliminary. Update: 09/22 20:43 GMT by T : Reader Curunir_wolf adds a link to the experiment itself, the Oscillation Project with Emulsion-tRacking Apparatus, or OPERA, which "was developed to study the phenomenon of neutrino transmutation (neutrinos changing from one type to another. The speed of the neutrinos, of course, was an entirely unexpected observation."
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CERN Experiment Indicates Faster-Than-Light Neutrinos

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  • Amusing (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday September 22, 2011 @03:30PM (#37483396)

    I hope those results are correct. It would be very amusing.

  • by MozeeToby ( 1163751 ) on Thursday September 22, 2011 @03:32PM (#37483414)

    No kidding, extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, and this is one mother of an extraordinary claim. Unlike most "fast than c" research that the media distorts, it actually sounds like it would be possible to transmit information using this effect, which essentially upends either relativity or causality. But, these aren't just some cranks doing experiments in their basements, and they are appropriately guarding their choice of words to emphasis the preliminary nature of the research which is a good sign. Hopefully the experiment wasn't too expensive and difficult to perform so we can get some people started on replicated (or refuting) the results.

  • Yay BBC News! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by il1019 ( 1068892 ) on Thursday September 22, 2011 @03:34PM (#37483434)
    This was a rational piece without too many sensationalist remarks! How do we show them we appreciate decent scientific writing as opposed to the crap we normally get?
  • by icebike ( 68054 ) on Thursday September 22, 2011 @03:36PM (#37483460)

    Regardless of how many times you repeat a measurement with a faulty ruler, the measurements are still wrong.

    How precisely did they measure the 732km?

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday September 22, 2011 @03:48PM (#37483624)

    They must have overlooked this point. Usually only senior/nobel level reasearchers can understand the extremely complicated system of faulty rulers and suspicious measurement results. In my experience, turning the thing OFF and ON again, would have done it.

  • by Nadaka ( 224565 ) on Thursday September 22, 2011 @03:50PM (#37483648)

    FTL != backwards time travel.

    If light takes 1 day to travel a distance and an FTL neutrino takes 23 hours, 59 minutes and 59 seconds to travel the same distance and then reflect both back at the source, the neutrino arrives 1 day, 23 hours, 59 minutes and 58 seconds after it is sent. That is distinctly not the past.

  • What speed? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by jeti ( 105266 ) on Thursday September 22, 2011 @03:53PM (#37483720) Homepage

    Was it faster than the speed of light in the given medium or faster than the speed of light in vacuum?

  • by MetricT ( 128876 ) on Thursday September 22, 2011 @04:00PM (#37483822)

    The numbers in the Reuter's article show the speed of light for neutrinos is 1 part in 40,000 times faster than the speed of light for normal matter.

    I don't think this involves causality violations just yet. All our speed of light experiments to date involve measuring particles involving the electromagnetic force (protons, electrons, photons). Even if confirmed, it could be that there's some measurement error in the EM-derived speed of light, which the neutrino is immune to. In which case, it's not useful for time travel. It simply means our measurement of c was off by a smidge.

    And given the small size of the result, if FTL neutrino communication is proved true, I expect the only real-world application would be financial companies trying to squeeze a few more nanoseconds off NYC-London communications.

  • by Liquidrage ( 640463 ) on Thursday September 22, 2011 @04:04PM (#37483860)
    So you're saying there's an 18m wormhole that makes these things get there "faster" than light. Or that they aren't capable of measuring to within 18 meters at that scale? I'd say that isn't very likely and I'd have a hard time imagining it. What I could imagine is that there's a mistake somewhere or equipment issue possibly. But repeated 15k times, and I fully trust the people at CERN OPERA to measure within 18m.
  • Re:First Post (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Tanktalus ( 794810 ) on Thursday September 22, 2011 @04:06PM (#37483896) Journal

    Consensus != universal fact. Consensus == our best understanding of universal fact. There's a difference. Real science is always open to upending.

  • by Blade ( 1720 ) on Thursday September 22, 2011 @04:10PM (#37483934) Homepage

    Yeh, I guess they never thought to check those two variables?

  • by Zenaku ( 821866 ) on Thursday September 22, 2011 @04:13PM (#37483958)

    I agree that the most likely cause is that the detector is closer to the emitter than they think it is. Even if the distance between them is what they think it is, however, it wouldn't mean that the particles traveled faster than c, as some here are implying. It would only mean that our prior measurements of the value of c were slightly off, and we now have a better measurement.

  • by LateArthurDent ( 1403947 ) on Thursday September 22, 2011 @04:16PM (#37483998)

    And why would this result be impossible?

    It's impossible according to current theories. It's not impossible that current theories are wrong, but very highly improbable to be wrong in this way, given the amount of corroboration we have for the speed of light being an absolute limit and for the time-dilation effects, which would cause faster-than-light particles to violate causality.

    Nevertheless, the data is the data, and that's why they're publishing it. Somebody else will find a measurement error (most likely) or we'll get exciting new physics (much less likely, but would be pretty awesome).

    Many have posted that the instruments were flawed or the scientists made a mistake, but not too long ago scientists were 100% certain that the world was flat too.

    Actually, I'd say that was very long ago. Considering Eratosthenes [] not only knew that the Earth was round, but was able to calculate the circumference to remarkable accuracy way back in ~200 BC. Note that it wasn't him that decided the Earth was round, that was already common knowledge. He figured out the circumference.

    Just because scientists currently believe that nothing can go faster than the speed of light doesn't make it so. Our views of the universe are always changing and saying that a result is "impossible", no matter how unlikely the result, is a bit short sided.

    That's true, however as many others have pointed out, extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. A single experiment just isn't enough. If we have sufficient confirmation of faster than light effects, scientists will most certainly welcome the result. Unexpected data opens up new opportunities for lots of papers. Scientists live for that, literally. It's what puts food on the table :)

  • About time (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday September 22, 2011 @04:16PM (#37484010)

    The physics of the past century do not empower us to send humans to other habitable planets. So...they need a good upending.

  • by Desler ( 1608317 ) on Thursday September 22, 2011 @04:19PM (#37484048)

    Yep it's a myth propagated by anti-science nuts. First popularized by religionists who were angry over evolutionary theory to try to discredit the science.

  • by smelch ( 1988698 ) on Thursday September 22, 2011 @04:45PM (#37484384)
    The problem is if I observe a blaster shot from Han hit Greedo before I see Han shoot.... fuck it, this joke isn't worth the mind bending.
  • by Toonol ( 1057698 ) on Thursday September 22, 2011 @04:49PM (#37484434)
    Of course, but these aren't crackpots screaming that modern physics is wrong. They're getting puzzling results, even after doublechecking, so they're asking others to verify. This is the by-the-book scientific process.
  • by epine ( 68316 ) on Thursday September 22, 2011 @05:02PM (#37484576)

    It only takes a few centimeters of wire to make a 60ns delay

    There are people in the battery industry who will knocking on your door shortly to seize your dielectric material in the interest of national welfare. You need a dielectric constant on the order of 1,000,000 to achieve this (in the context of telegrapher's equations, speed of light varies as sqrt(e_r)). By comparison, relative permittivity of barium titanate ranges up to about 10,000.

    You might want to check your math. It takes only a few keystrokes to google "2cm/c in ns".

    It would be nice someday if Google would give "2cm/c in ps" the same stature. What a world. Even the metric system can't get a fair shake.

  • I have explained this several times, but the absence of CFD and presence of retrocausality allows for accurate, unreproducible results in experimental data. It's the reason that Physicists are so resistant to anything that is allowed to exceed the speed of light and still carry information/interact. If true it forces us to completely reevaluate how we perform science, or accept a much higher degree of uncertainty in the things we know.
  • by shutdown -p now ( 807394 ) on Thursday September 22, 2011 @05:37PM (#37485068) Journal

    the knowledge that is the cornerstone of modern physics, knowledge that has been tested time and time again and found true, is upturned by one experiment?

    Well, it's not like it never happened before...

    If their finding is correct, it doesn't mean that previous experiments were wrong. It just means that things are more complicated than we thought them to be. It's a darker side of the Occam's Razor - you get rid of unnecessary things, sure, but how do you determine whether they are unnecessary? why, based on your experimental input - you need the simplest model that can explain the results that you see, and predict future results when you test it. Problem is, your experiments might not be covering some edge case, and therefore you didn't see the complete picture - and oversimplified your theory.

  • by jambox ( 1015589 ) on Thursday September 22, 2011 @05:40PM (#37485106)
    But, if they can send light down the same route and get the same result, then they can show a significant difference between the speed of it and neutrinos.
  • Re:Not so fast... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by ceoyoyo ( 59147 ) on Thursday September 22, 2011 @05:57PM (#37485298)

    "That's a fallacy. Just because he's been crazy in the past doesn't necessarily mean he's being crazing now. Argue about the idea not the person."

    It's a logical fallacy, which means it's technically a fallacy in a formal logic system. The fact that he's been crazy in the past doesn't PROVE he's crazy now. However, being crazy in the past is significantly correlated with being crazy now, so the likelihood he is crazy now is increased by his being crazy in the past.

    As for the "idea," his basic idea is summed up by the sentence "Of course they're wrong, but I can't tell you exactly why." The quoted paragraph, for example, is ridiculous - you can take a noisy but unbiased measurement and improve the margin of error by averaging over many measurements (which is of course what they did). As for the rest of it, he brings up a lot of things that suggest faster than light particles are theoretically problematic - of course they are. I didn't see any part where he actually addresses the experiment itself, although I did start skimming a bit after reading a page long random story about a pigeon shitting in his pants.

I was playing poker the other night... with Tarot cards. I got a full house and 4 people died. -- Steven Wright