Home / Gran Sasso Team Discovers Faster-than-Light Particles.

Gran Sasso Team Discovers Faster-than-Light Particles.

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Scientists are skeptical, and still recovering from the shock of subatomic particles, neutrinos, moving in a vacuum apparently at speeds faster than the speed of light. The scientists in Gran Sasso, Italy have been running the experiment known as OPERA (Oscillation Project with Emulsion-tRacking Apparatus) for three years. The Gran Sasso team has access to the large accelerator at Cern, near Geneva, Switzerland, from which they shot the particles using a system of magnets over a distance of 450 miles to Gran Sasso. A beam of light traveling that distance would require about 2.4 milliseconds to span the space. Light travels fast enough to circle the earth six times in a single second. The neutrinos arrived 60 billionths of a second before they were expected. The speed of light in a vacuum is 299,792,458 meters per second but the particles were traveling at 299,798,454 meters per second.,

Einstein, the father of modern physics and of the theory of special relativity, states that nothing can travel faster than light in a vacuum. We now believe there are exceptions. In the center of our Sun, deep inside superheated and compressed atoms, subatomic particles throb back and forth from energy to matter, and in their matter phase are exceeding the limit of light speed. And at the hypothesized “Big Bang”, existence itself far surpassed the speed of light, expanding outward in all directions.

Stephen Parke head of theoretical physics at Fermilab has a lot to say about the unexpected new discovery. “If this is true”, Parke says, “It would rock the foundations of physics.The existence of faster-than-light particles would also wreak havoc on scientific theories of cause and effect. If things travel faster than the speed of light, A can cause B; but then, B can also cause A. … If that happens, the concept of causality becomes ambiguous, and that would cause a great deal of trouble.” Parke’s conclusion: “Your first response is it can’t possibly be true, that they must have made a mistake!”

Astrophysicist Dave Goldberg at Philadelphia’s Drexel University makes the point that “If faster-than-light neutrinos did exist, they would likely have been observed in nature before now. For example in 1987, detectors on Earth identified neutrinos and photons, light particles, from an exploding star. Both types of particles reached our planet at almost exactly the same instance.” Goldberg sums it up this way: “If neutrinos travel faster than light by the amount the OPERA team claims, then neutrinos from that supernova should have been detected in 1984; three years before the photons. It’s possible, but unlikely.”

Responding to suggestions of faulty measurement, OPERA Team co-coordinator Antonio Ereditato said, “We are competent experimentalists, we made a measurement and we believe our measurement is sound. Now it is up to the community to scrutinize it. We are not in a hurry. We are saying, tell us what we did wrong; redo the measurement if you can. There will be all sorts of science fiction writers who will give their own opinions on what this means, but we don’t want to enter that game.”

Here’s an interesting interpretation. Heinrich Paes at Dortmund University believes that it may be possible for the neutrinos to transport through hidden dimensions and shortcuts in space-time. “The extra dimension is warped in a way that particles moving through it can travel faster than particles that go through the known three dimensions of space. It’s like a shortcut through this extra dimension. So it looks like particles are going faster than light, but actually they don’t.”

From the University College in London, Professor Jenny Thomas remarked that if the OPERA discovery were correct, it would overturn everything we thought we understood about relativity and the speed of light”.

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About John Lake

John Lake had a long and successful career in legitimate and musical theater. He moved up into work behind the camera at top motion pictures. He has done a smattering of radio, and television John joined the Blogcritics field of writers owing to a passion for the liberal press, himself speaking out about the political front, and liberal issues. Now the retired Mr. Lake has entered the field of motion picture, television, and video game (now a daily gamer!) critique. His writing is always innovative and immensely readable!
  • John Lake

    Here’s an update (November 21, 2011) from the BBC:

    “The findings challenge a result reported in September that, if true, would undermine a century of physics.
    “The team at the INFN-Gran Sasso laboratory in Italy said they had measured faster-than-light speeds in neutrinos sent from Cern, 730km away.
    “Now a different team at the same lab reports findings that, they say, cast doubt on that surprising result.”

    Article at link casts doubt on “faster than light” neutrinos.

  • Glenn Contrarian

    No. As you read this there are untold millions of neutrinos passing through your skull at nigh-impossible speed, but a lack of friction or charge does not allow acceleration – it simply negates any deceleration.

  • R.P.Bult

    Could this all be a simple case of friction?
    Other particles have a charge which react with their surroundings, which limits their speed. Neutrinos by their nature have no charge and therefore, when given the same amount of energy are able to move faster due to lack of ‘friction’.

  • Glenn Contrarian

    There are three possibilities:

    1 – the OPERA findings are right, or

    2 – there is a mistake in the engineering, measurement, observation, or interpretation of the OPERA findings, or

    3 – the OPERA findings are apparently right, but due to our incomplete understanding of the deepest questions of physics, we do not see how such particles could appear to travel faster than the speed of light, yet not violate Einstein’s equations.

    I’d like to think that the third is right, mostly because I’m sentimental – I want Einstein to be right (which is NOT how a scientist should allow himself to think, since emotion can cloud one’s ability to think and observe), but also because I have a theory which might well explain the OPERA results.

    If the very fabric of space itself is ever-so-slightly compressed within a gravity well as my article theorizes, then all things within such a ‘compression zone’ would appear to an outside observer to be traveling faster than it should, albeit only by a very small degree. The degree of compression might be so small that the OPERA results might be the first earthbound observation we could have seen of the elasticity of the fabric of space.

    Do I think my theory’s right? Actually, I doubt it – there’s a hole or six in it that I can’t explain (yet). But it’s interesting to say the least to see something come up like the OPERA results that my theory COULD explain!

  • If these neutrinos arrived 60 billionths of a second earlier than they should have, then winding things back to the start, the neutrinos were already 60 billionths of a second into their journey before they’d actually started out

  • I’m starting to think it increasingly probable that the OPERA result is down to a systematic error. One commenter over at Discover magazine, in fact, calculated that the difference between the time light takes to travel the straight-line distance between CERN and Gran Sasso (which was the route the neutrinos took, not being particularly concerned about trifling things like planets being in the way) and the time it would take to travel between the same two points following the curvature of the Earth is around 60 nanoseconds – exactly the “early” arrival time of the neutrinos. Whoopsy…

    While this seems like a glaringly obvious stupid schoolboy mistake, it’s not something that’s unprecedented in science; and the OPERA researchers are well aware of this, which is why they’re asking for second, third and million-and-oneth opinions.

    I more or less hope somebody pinpoints the fuck-up (if such it is) soon, because if not, the next step would be to try to falsify the results by replicating the experiment independently (i.e. not at CERN). The problem is that this will be extremely difficult to do. Neutrinos are elusive little buggers and CERN has been firing them at Gran Sasso since 2006, but it’s not until now that the recipients have actually caught any.

  • jason

    Um, first The speed of light is a result of Maxwell’s equations for electromagnetic waves. Second, Einstein’s Special theory of relativity is special because it is restricted to the laws of motion ie. classical mechanics. Einstein’s General theory includes electromatnetic waves like light.

  • hollypahl

    Our hope of course is that the Speed of Light is wrong that there is a way to exceed it.

  • As the scientists themselves are, I’m sceptical about these findings. The history of science is scattered with similar “groundbreaking’ discoveries that later turned out to be, hmm, not so much. (Remember the “cold fusion” debacle?)

    So I applaud the OPERA team in their candid “this seems to be right, but it can’t be… what do you all think?” approach. It may well be one of those staring-you-in-the-face errors of measurement, or it may be down to the extreme difficulty of tracking neutrinos in the first place – are the ones that arrived in Italy indeed the same ones that left Switzerland?

    That said, we have already (sort of) detected neutrinos travelling faster than light. The neutrino burst from Supernova 1987A arrived at Earth several hours before the photons got here – although actually that was an effect of the explosion itself taking its time to reach the surface of the star and thereby becoming visible.

  • John Lake

    In fact, the comment about the “riders” is mildly interesting, but consider instead not the parallel universes moving through “our” universe, rather the universes of the matter that is absolutely motionless and constant in relation to those moving dimensions. If we put our minds to it, we see two (four dimensional) dimensions, or universes, existing simultaneously and in close proximity. Ordinarily these coexistent universes would never meet, never interconnect. Then we see the well-intended scientists in Europe have opened a door, a portal of sorts. It has been speculated that if objects smash at double light speed, the universe, all time, all space, all matter, will end. In Einsteinian formula, energy would equal the speed of light squared, exponent to the speed of light, times the mass involved. Since objects moving at the speed of light (Doctor Einstein says) have infinite mass… well it comes out to the pre-mentioned end. So if universes clash, what will be the outcome? Any SF buff will tell you, strange creatures will emerge. The future is bleak!

  • John Lake

    jst1024: That is precisely what many would think. But we need to yield to the physicists who say they are sure it isn’t like that, when we approach light speeds. The key to bridging that gap may lie in the concept of dimensions. In this case, the point of view of those who see the speed of light as we do, are in a separate dimension from those who are in sync with the neutrinos. In most theoretic applications the dimensions wouldn’t so nearly overlap.
    As to time travel, the rider on the neutrino beam could move ahead of the light riders, look to the past, and change it.
    I often think physicists intentionally obfuscate and make more of things than might be warranted.

  • Both statements in #1 are factually incorrect…

  • jst1024

    I forgot to mention the numbers 137 which are so popular as the house or street numbers among the scientists and are believed to solve the issue.

  • jst1024

    Even if you walk with a lamp in your hands you have faster than the speed of light situation. If you travel with the speed of light with a lamp in your hand, your lamp’s light travels twice as fast than the speed of light. So something sure goes faster than the speed of light.