Last month, a team of researchers announced that their neutrinos appeared to be travelling faster than the speed of light. Ethan Siegel explains that the mass of a neutrino is "less than one-millionth the mass of the electron, but still not equal to zero" and "should move at a speed indistinguishable from the speed of light." Meanwhile the OPERA team had to smash 1020 protons just to detect 16,000 neutrinos—and account for every source of delay an uncertainty in their experimental setup. On Uncertain Principles, Chad Orzel explains that the researchers used GPS satellites to measure the 730 kilometer distance between the proton source and the neutrino detector to within 20 centimeters, and synchronize the atomic clocks at each site. Chad writes "superluminal particles that interact with ordinary matter (as neutrinos do, albeit weakly) opens the door to violations of causality—effects happening before the things that caused them, and that sort of thing." Steinn SigurÃ°sson writes on Dynamics of Cats, "Well, along with 99.87% of physicists, I am very skeptical," but adds "a very, very faint possibility is that either relativity is wrong; or, muon neutrinos are weakly tachyonic; or, the neutrino tunneling between flavours is evidence of some funky stringy higher dimensional tunneling, and the geometry is weakly non-3D." The OPERA team wants to know: can you spot the error?
- Are we fooling ourselves with faster-than-light neutrinos? on Starts With a Bang!
- Faster Than a Speeding Photon: "Measurement of the neutrino velocity with the OPERA detector in the CNGS beam" on Uncertain Principles
- The Phantoms of the OPERA on Dynamics of Cats
What most people fail to understand is that the assumption that no particle can travel faster than light is just a deduction and not a fundamental principle of physics. That this deduction held for a century does not mean that it should always hold. Science means openness and let us be open to empirical observation without stifling it with our century-old theoretical paradigms about speed of light and such things.
Johnson C. Philip, PhD (Quantum-nuclear Physics)
Why not simply set up a violaton of causality experiment and see what happens?
Hmm. Maybe thats why we haven't been contacted by aliens - everyone tries it when they find out.