Neutrinos Move Faster Than Light?

We are extremely skeptical, but this is all over the news so we have to mention it. London’s Daily Telegraph reports: Speed of light ‘broken’ by scientists. Here are some excerpts, with bold font added by us:

The science world was left in shock when workers at the world’s largest physics lab announced they had recorded subatomic particles travelling faster than the speed of light. If the findings are proven to be accurate, they would overturn one of the pillars of the Standard Model of physics, which explains the way the universe and everything within it works.

You can see why we’re skeptical. Let’s read on:

Einstein’s theory of special relativity, proposed in 1905, states that nothing in the universe can travel faster than the speed of light in a vacuum. But researchers at the CERN lab [see CERN] near Geneva claim they have recorded neutrinos, a type of tiny particle, travelling faster than the barrier of 186,282 miles (299,792 kilometers) per second.

The results have so astounded researchers that American and Japanese scientists have been asked to verify the results before they are confirmed as a discovery.

Yes, a bit of verification would seem to be in order. One last excerpt:

Antonio Ereditato, spokesman for the researchers, said: “We have high confidence in our results. We have checked and rechecked for anything that could have distorted our measurements but we found nothing.”

There are longer articles floating around but they’re all from the AP. They don’t allow their stories to be copied, so this is the best we could do. If we find something better, we’ll mention it in the comments.

Addendum: This is at the Scientific American website: Particles Found to Travel Faster than Speed of Light.

See also: Answers in Genesis & the Speed of Light.

See also: Update on Neutrinos & Lightspeed — 15 Oct ’11.

See also: Neutrinos & the Speed of Light — 18 Nov ’11.

Update: See Maybe Neutrinos Aren’t Faster Than Light.

Update: See Faster Than Light Neutrinos: The Epilogue.

Copyright © 2011. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

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39 responses to “Neutrinos Move Faster Than Light?

  1. I remember a science-savvy friend of mine trying to explain to me in terms even I coiuld understand why the speed of light in a vacuum is an absolute limit, and why you can’t go faster than light by just stepping on the gas. One analogy he used was that the speed of light is like absolute zero. You can put words together that say “a million degrees below zero,” but they’re meaningless. All motion and thus all heat cease at absolute zero, and there is no less than that. Same with the speed of light. There is no “beyond” that, because it would take an infinite amount of energy for a particle even to reach the speed of light, and more than infinite is just as absurd as less than nothing. There are some phenomena that *seem* to exceed the speed of light, but nothing Scotty could use for a warp drive. So, sadly, from my layman’s perspective, I can only predict that something is wrong or illusory in the present news story, and soon there will be a correction or retraction bringing us back down to our old dreary reality again. But one can always hope something amazing has been discovered…

  2. Were any of the workers on this finding named “Cochrane by chance?”

  3. I have no idea, and I haven’t even Googled it, how one measures the speed of a neutrino but I imagine it involves synchronized clocks on both “ends” and lots of other stuff. Having been involved with much simpler things that go mysteriously wrong I know how easy it is to fall prey to the Can’t Be Me syndrome. They’re talking about a 60-nanosecond difference and my prediction is … drum roll … they’ll find a cause and it won’t be an Usain Bolt of light.

  4. Not faster than light. Check out the following blog:
    Some reporter jumped the gun, as it were.

  5. They also state that they have measured the 730 kilometer distance that the neutrinos traveled to within 20 centimeters. I suspect if that distance was measured in CA, the earth would be shifting by small amounts and the distance would vary between the time of the measurement and the experiment.

    We had a discussion some time ago about the impossibility of measuring the one-way speed of light, due to issues around synchronization of clocks. I presume that logic is still true.

    Count me as a skeptic. (although, it would be cool if true)

  6. Has anyone thought about a re-survey of the two locations since the earthquake in Italy? I have tried to track info on this down, and it doesn’t seem like that has been mentioned. I would almost expect such a simple experimental error for such a glaring result.

  7. Wonder when Dr. Jason Lisle, PhD will weigh in on the subject?

  8. M recollection of special relativity is that the speed of light limit only applies to particles that are increasing speed by having more energy added to them. That is, a gradual process of speeding up a particle doesn’t work, because its mass goes toward infinity as the particle’s speed approaches light speed. However, if a particle is *created* with a super-luminal speed, this doesn’t violate special relativity. Now, if some neutrinos change into another sort of neutrinos in flight, and if the second variety of neutrino has less mass than the first one, conservation of energy might have that new particle going faster than c for the life span of that particle.

  9. This is splendid. Klinghoffer thinks if relativity is collapsing, can evolution be far behind? See Another One Bites the Dust?

  10. From my reading the question is really could they have measured the distance and the time of origin of the neutrinos as well as they think they have? The discrepancy is something like 60 +/- 10 ns in the travel time, not enough by itself to overthrow relativity just yet.

    But Klinghoffer, for the creationists, and the global warming “skeptics” are both saying this goes to show that you can’t trust the “scientific consensus”.

    @Deklane: why you can’t go faster than light by just stepping on the gas.

    The best way I can think of to explain it is that the speed of light is a property of space. You can measure it in experiments that have nothing whatever to do with light, like experiments involving magnets or capacitors. The spectral lines of hydrogen, for example, are a very sensitive test of our understanding of electricity and magnetism.

    This result if true would require a lot of work to show why we didn’t see this in the many other physical phenomena that would be affected. It seems most likely, right now, that there is some sort of mistake.

  11. Biokid,
    Loved this from your linked article (my emphasis added),

    Now, it’s always possible that our current knowledge of the universe isn’t correct, even something as old and well-established as the fundamental theory of electricity and magnetism. But the more established and well-tested the theory, the less likely this becomes. It’s like evolution, sure it could be wrong, but it almost certainly isn’t.

    Now, before the bots invaded the blog comments and dropped about 200 spams on Viagra and various other “enhancement” products, several creationists dropped in. They gave the blogger a piece of their mind about how anyone who thinks evolution explains everything is simply close-minded. That if you’re willing to open your mind to other “possibilities”, well, you might see things differently.
    Personally, I think that if you’re that open-minded, your brains are falling out.

  12. Feel like I’m spamming now. I just realized that the blog post that Biokid linked to was written in 2007. It’s not the same thing. BUT… the points he makes in this 4-year old blog post are still applicable now.
    Also, the none of the Discoveroids or any other creationists are allowed to use any of this evidence to push their creationism. Why? Because this is real science. Real science allows for things such as this. Things can change as we learn new things. And when was the last time that the creationists announced new findings that changed their worldview?
    I thought not.

  13. Exactly. The theory of relativity has too many lines of supporting evidence to be totally wrong. Same goes for evolution. Even if a rabbit was found in the pre-cambrian the line of research would be to understand the find, not discard the theory of evolution and start over. Again, too many lines of independent data, experiments and supporting results.

    I think Venter was asked a similar question along the lines of what if he discovered a sea critter in his survey that was totally different, would that overturn evolution. Venter said, no, it would just be something fascinating to study.

    Luddites like Klinghopper would never understand, care to understand or care. He could watch Katerina Witt skate for years, flawlessly, see her take a single spill and pronounce her entire career “crap.”

  14. Should be interesting to see what happens over the next few days. I don’t think they got the distance that wrong; enhancements to GPS for surveying typically have errors on the cm scale and these guys would’ve needed a 10+ meter error to account for the difference. I think a clock synchronization error or something else might be going on.
    Phil Plait has a good write-up over at Bad Astronomy. As he points out, this experiment would predict we’d see neutrinos from supernovae years before we see photons from them. And that doesn’t happen. Its not a slam dunk but seems like a fairly reasonable counter example to me.

  15. Gabriel Hanna says:

    This result if true would require a lot of work to show why we didn’t see this in the many other physical phenomena that would be affected. It seems most likely, right now, that there is some sort of mistake.

    Agreed. Even if this were true and somehow limited solely to neutrinos, it would be theoretically possible to send FTL messages, and that alone is almost too much to accept.

  16. You may be interested in this cartoon commentary:

  17. Sensuous Curmudgeon’s First Law of Crackpots:

    Any finding of mainstream science that is questioned, challenged, or revised immediately vindicates all crackpots everywhere.

    Sensuous Curmudgeon’s Second Law of Crackpots:

    The likelihood of the truth of a proposition is directly proportional to the amount of evidence and number of objections raised by mainstream science against that propostion.

  18. Aren’t (most) neutrinos massless? And aren’t they next to impossible to detect?
    If so, how does one go about accurately measuring a neutrino’s velocity?

  19. @RSG:And aren’t they next to impossible to detect?

    Difficult, but not impossible. There is actually a neutrino telescope in Antartica.

    If so, how does one go about accurately measuring a neutrino’s velocity?

    That’s the hard part. Finding where and when they were detected I think is easier than findout out when and where they were emitted.

  20. Supernova 1987a put an upper limit on the mass of the neutrino.

    Also note that the neutrinos were detected about 3 hours before the light from the supernova reached Earth. That delay is consistent with the delay in the effects of the core collapse reaching the outer layers of the collapsing star where the light from the event would be produced.

    The neutrinos would have passed through the entire star with little interaction while the electromagnetic effects would have taken far longer to propagate to the surface.

  21. this would be awesome if it panned out. I always wanted to be captain of the starship enterprise.

    in all seriousness though, I do agree with the above skepticism. But that’s how science is done and confirmed or refuted it all adds to our knowledge.

  22. this would be awesome if it panned out. I always wanted to be captain of the starship enterprise.

    Even if it pans out, I doubt I will volunteer for FTL travel since it seems to involve being converted into neutrinos.

  23. ehhh… details…

  24. eric says:

    I doubt I will volunteer for FTL travel since it seems to involve being converted into neutrinos.

    Have no fear. This blog does not discriminate based on the particles of which you may be composed.

  25. Just saw an interesting comment on a Yahoo article on this subject by a creationist (apparently) who claimed this as proof of god, or maybe just ID.
    “Now they have discovered FASTER THAN LIGHT particles. Interesting, to say the least.
    But in order to create light, one MUST be faster than it.”
    How do you argue with folks who “think” like that?

  26. TomS: Thanks for the link to the cartoon commentary. Did you also check out the previous cartoon re: the chin-up bar on the world’s longest escalator? Outrageously irresponsible, but ingeniously funny.

  27. Got a WAY BACK question for Gabriel. Way back to the one-way speed of light question that got batted around. I think I may have figured a way to measure the one-way speed of light.

    The chance that I’m right is one in a million, but I don’t yet see the flaw in the proposed test. Maybe you can.

    Take two points in a row A and B. A is the emitting point.

    For description purposes let’s say they are pointing down toward the earth and 9.8 meters apart. (I guess we also need to stipulate it’s in a vacuum to remove air resistance, and lots of other precautions.) “A” shoots a beam of light down the line at the same time as dropping an object.

    The light should reach sensor B at some point and the object should reach it 1 second less 3.3e-8 seconds later, if light speed is constant in all directions,.

    If light speed is infinite in that direction, the dropping object should reach B exactly 1 second after the light reaches B.

    One can modify the experiment so the object isn’t just falling at gravity’s acceleration, thus allowing it to be checked in all directions, verifying that light speed is equal in all directions. Gravity was just the easiest to describe (and had the added bonus of debunking Lisle’s particular variant of light speed being infinitely fast toward earth).

    Is there something I’m missing that turns this into a round-trip light speed measurement? As far as I can tell there isn’t any synchronization of clocks or passing beams back and forth. I don’t think the distance measurement from A to B has anything funky either.

    Did I win the lottery and come up with a way to finally settle the light speed convention argument? Or, much more likely, was there something I overlooked? If I did settle it, then I reserve rights to this idea and will write the paper!! (don’t worry, I’ll make sure to mention you in the paper)

  28. WebMonk, for one thing, your gravity-dropped test object (or control object) is only going to drop in one direction, so you can’t run this test in all directions.

  29. Correct, but the falling object was just the first way I thought of describing the experiment simply. It would work just as well if any object were sent at a very accurately and precisely known rate in any direction along with the light beam toward the B sensor.

    A pellet/particle shot out at a very precisely calculated rate would work as well. It just seemed that using a falling object was simpler to describe. The engineering to make sure the particle/pellet/whatever really was moving at exactly the calculated rate and not being affected by overlooked factors wouldn’t be simple, but it would be doable. (likewise with making sure it really was sent out at the same time as the light beam, etc.)

  30. The speed of light not just a property of light, it’s a property of space. The speeds of everything are affected by that property in complicated ways.

    Your clock at B can’t know when the object was released, without first being somehow synchronized with the clock at A…

  31. The clock at B doesn’t need to know the time that A sent things since it’s not trying to measure the travel time. It doesn’t need to know anything about point A.

    All B needs to know is the time between when the object and light beam finally arrive. It doesn’t need to know how long it took them to travel from A to B. It doesn’t need to synchronize with A at all as far as I can tell. It is just measuring the difference in arrive times between the light beam and the object. Not the length of travel time.

    No synchronization. As long as the object and the light beam are released at the same time, and the object is known to have a certain speed, it can be determined if the time between arrivals (not time of travel, just difference in time of arrive at the same point) is consistent with an infinite light speed or a finite light speed.

    If there is synchronization, where might it be?

  32. and the object is known to have a certain speed

    And there’s your synchronization problem. How do you know the speed? You need two clocks, separated in space, to measure speed. If you say you’re getting the speed from v = sqrt(2gh), from Newtonian gravity, then you’ve assumed a synchronization convention. Gravity is very different in relativity; if the speed of light is not the same in all directions, neither is gravity, because both gravity and the speed of light are based on the properties of space.

  33. I don’t know how to verify for certain, but I’m reasonably sure that an infinite one-way light speed toward earth wouldn’t increase the effect of gravity. The asynchronous light speed would change the propagation rate of gravity, but it wouldn’t change the strength of gravity.

    Asynchronous light speed (infinite toward earth) would have the falling object reach B exactly 1 second after the light did. If light is synchronous, the object reaches B just less than 1 second after the light reaches B.

    In order for asynchronous light speed to adjust the time interval to match the interval seen in the synchronous situation, it would need to cause the object to fall just a little faster – strengthen gravity’s effect. I don’t think that’s one of the effects of asynchronous light speed.

    I could be wrong, or I could be entirely misunderstanding your point as to the manner in which the synchronization takes place.

  34. And just to clear up something I caught in re-reading, I do realize the infinite light speed toward earth is not the same as the asynchronous/synchronous light speed convention problem, but is merely an extremely special case of that issue.

    I used them somewhat interchangeably above. Sorry.

  35. The asynchronous light speed would change the propagation rate of gravity, but it wouldn’t change the strength of gravity.

    It changes the amount of time the pebble or whatever has to experience the acceleration from gravity. Remember that objects moving relative to you experience less time in your frame. If the speed of light is different in different directions, so is the effect of time dilation.

    It’s very hard to get anywhere in these problems by hand-waving.

  36. I just realized another minor goof. I said that B could be 9.8 m away from A just to make the calculations simple. That was a mistake. The object would be falling at 9.8m/s after one second, but it would have only covered 4.9 meters. So, B should be 4.9 meters from A to keep calculations simple.

    Stupid mistakes like that are why I’m pretty sure I’m wrong here, but I need some help to figure out where my blind spot is. Thank you Gabe for spending time on this!

    I might be getting a glimmer of where I’ve gone wrong, but, I still don’t see it clearly. Allow me a bit of quick off-the-cuff thinking. Correct me where I’m wrong.

    The asynch situation needs to have the object falling slightly faster than in the synchronous situation, so that B’s measured interval is the same. Either way, there is some time dilation in effect. However, as far as I can tell, that effect is many orders of magnitude too small to account for the possible difference.

    Just using a non-accelerating Lorentz calculation, the difference in time between B and the object (simplified to be moving at a constant 4.9 m/s for 1 second) is 0.fifteenzeros134 seconds. (I don’t have the software here to figure the GR, accelerating formula, but it would come out with a very slightly smaller time difference)

    When the experiment is carried out, B sees the object arrive 0.9999999837 seconds after the light beam arrives. (seven nines. the time it takes for the light to travel 4.9 meters) The Lorentz contraction of time is about eight orders of magnitude too small to make a difference. Right?

    Besides,Lorentz is working in the “wrong” direction to make up the difference. The asynchronous light speed situation needs to “accelerate” the falling object so that even though the light beam reaches B instantly, the object falls slightly faster so that it still reaches B 0.9999999837 seconds after the light beam arrives.

    The different time rates in the different frames of motion between B and the falling object would work to “slow” the object’s arrival at B, not hurry it up.

    Hmmm, maybe I’m beginning to see it. The Lorentz contraction is a “synchronous universe” calculation. When things are transformed to an asynchronous situation, the “Lorentz” adjustment might work to speed up clocks that are “in motion” when they are moving in the infinite light speed direction in relation to the observer and slow them down when they’re moving in the opposite direction in relation to the observer.

    Thus, the object would “fall faster” when it’s moving in the infinite light-speed direction – precisely faster so that the object would reach the B sensor exactly 0.9999999837 seconds after the light beam.

    Did I get that right Gabe? Did I just need to talk myself through it to see where I got off the rails?

  37. @WebMonk:However, as far as I can tell, that effect is many orders of magnitude too small to account for the possible difference.

    But now you are assuming what you set out to prove. The time it takes for light to travel 4.9m or whatever at “normal” light speed, vs the time taken at infinite speed, is ALSO “many orders of magnitude too small”. You can’t just wave these things away: when you are trying to compare two tiny effects you have to account for both of them or your accounting is bogus.

    When you are trying to figure out what light is doing it is not that useful to compare with things slower than light; the speed of light affects those things too.

  38. I don’t think I waved them away, but I did ignore that they could be (are) different in an asynch situation than in a synchronous one, and that the difference could be (is) sufficient to remove the difference between measured outcomes.

    Thank you!

    I still hold that if things were created just 5000 years ago with asynchronous light speed oriented toward earth, we would be seeing effects because of that sort of supernatural event Not detecting the asynchronous light speed itself, but rather the effects of instant creation with asynch speed — unless of course, the Creator also supernaturally adjusted everything to behave as if …. blah,blah,blah. An impossible discussion since the answer would always be that the Creator just removed the evidence of the recent creation.

    However, in the larger problem over whether or not it’s possible to detect if light speed is synchronous or not, it does indeed appear there’s no way to detect the difference.