Neutrinos & the Speed of Light — 18 Nov ’11

You remember the surprising news we reported back in September: Neutrinos Move Faster Than Light? We’ve also posted a few updates: on 15 Oct ’11 and then 28 Oct ’11, when it was reported that CERN was going to run the test again.

Well, they’ve done it, and the BBC reports Neutrino experiment repeat at Cern finds same result. If you care about this you’re going to click over there to read it all, so we’ll just provide a few excerpts, with a bit of bold font added for emphasis:

The team which found that neutrinos may travel faster than light has carried out an improved version of their experiment – and confirmed the result. If confirmed by other experiments, the find could undermine one of the basic principles of modern physics.

No big deal, right? Here’s more:

Critics of the first report in September had said that the long bunches of neutrinos (tiny particles) used could introduce an error into the test. The new work used much shorter bunches.

Okay, it wasn’t that. Let’s read on:

The error in the length of the bunches, however, is just the largest among several potential sources of uncertainty in the measurement, which must all now be addressed in turn; these mostly centre on the precise departure and arrival times of the bunches.

This is like the biggest suspense thriller in the universe. We continue:

Next year, teams working on two other experiments at Gran Sasso experiments – Borexino and Icarus – will begin independent cross-checks of Opera’s results.

The US Minos experiment and Japan’s T2K experiment will also test the observations. It is likely to be several months before they report back.

That’s it. You’ll have to hang on a few more months, dear reader. But don’t worry — the only thing we’re waiting for is to learn the nature of the universe.

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

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8 responses to “Neutrinos & the Speed of Light — 18 Nov ’11

  1. Don’t worry the creationists already know the answer whatever it may be!

  2. I am shocked you didn’t mention that scientific dogma (nothing can go faster than the speed of light, which of course cannot be proved, only disproved) can be challenged. And that scientists, if proven wrong, will give up their false beliefs for better ones. Shocked, I say!

    Where is your faith! ;o)

  3. From an earlier report: Dutch researcher Ronald A.J. van Elburg lays out the case that the GPS satellite measuring the neutrinos’ movements was also moving relative to the CERN and OPERA facilities as it orbited the Earth.

    And from a report today: This experiment doesn’t prove faster than light travel, it just discounts certain criteria as to why it may have occurred. The GPS time issue has yet to be resolved and could still be the explanation for the faster than light claims.

    I found it interesting that Elburg’s calculations account for the discrepancy almost exactly, however, it’s good experimental procedure to follow all sources of error. Leave no neutrino unturned!

  4. Leave no neutrino unturned!

    Or behind, for that matter. No matter how this turns out we are learning things.

  5. Neutrinos? Are they predicted and described in the Old Testament or the New Testament?

    I’m pretty sure Moses said something about them coming out of the burning bush. Not sure though.

  6. The neutrino experiment gives us a good opportunity for a lesson in how science does and doesn’t work.

    “Disproving Einstein” is how this is presented in the media. But disproving Einstein has already been done many times, as Einstein was wrong about many things.

    Science does not gain its authority from dead people in its past. If I want to know how to get from here to New York City I do not consult a map drawn by Christopher Columbus. If I want to build a modern steam engine I do not consult a book by Watt. If I want to know about the current state of nuclear fusion research I do not consult a book by Marie Curie. I am not a distinguished physicist–in fact now that I do little but teach physics I increasingly doubt that I may rightly call myself a physicist at all. Yet I know more of Newtonian mechanics than Isaac Newton ever did. And Einstein knew much less about relativity than today’s scientists do: showing that something he did was wrong, or incomplete, is what is to be EXPECTED.

    Scientists today know far more about science than the great names that led the way. Christopher Columbus is not a bad analogy. He was not the the first human to know of the Americas, or even the first European, but he was the first one to bring the existence of the Americas to attention of the educated world generally, and more importantly he showed them a way to get there and back reproducibly and unambiguously, and the world was very different place because of it–which was not true for the other times America had been “discovered”. But a hell of a lot has changed since then and Christopher Columbus is no longer an authority on what the state of the America is today.

    Likewise with science. Scientists rarely cite Newton or Maxwell or Einstein or Gibbs. They cite recent work by other scientists, because recent work has more authority. Recent work has more authority because the accumulated total of experimental and theoretical experience grows with time and is too much for any one person to master. A Great Man or Woman can do no more, in one human lifetime, than point the way to others, just as Christopher Columbus did not have time to build cities, railroads, and interstate highways all over the New World. And so we rightly put more importance on the recent knowledge distributed over the current workers in the field.

    Contrast this with peddlers of pseudoscience like Discovery Institute–it’s all Darwin and Wallace, Spencer and Haeckel. They rarely engage current science, instead choosing to argue from citations from the writings of dead men. This is not science, but scholasticism, and it is exactly how theologians argue. And I think it is how most people argue, from authorities.

    As we go forth from here, I think we should try to emphasize this difference. That disproving Einstein or some other great dead person is not what science ever has been about; we know far more about science today than those people did. They are rightly honored for having shown the way, but they could never have done more than that.

  7. Another report just out provides disconfirming evidence that the OPERA results are wrong. It’s all about energy, baby, and the neutrinos and the little devils were no where close to theoretical predictions for c+ travel, but right in line with c:

    Physicist Tomasso Dorigo, who works at CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, and the U.S. Fermilab near Chicago, said in a post on the website Scientific Blogging that the ICARUS paper was “very simple and definitive.”

    It says, he wrote, “that the difference between the speed of neutrinos and the speed of light cannot be as large as that seen by OPERA, and is certainly smaller than that by three orders of magnitude, and compatible with zero.”


  8. Further detail: They argue, on the basis of recently published studies by two top US physicists, that the neutrinos pumped down from CERN, near Geneva, should have lost most of their energy if they had travelled at even a tiny fraction faster than light.

    But in fact, the ICARUS scientists say, the neutrino beam as tested in their equipment registered an energy spectrum fully corresponding with what it should be for particles travelling at the speed of light and no more.