Science

Faster-than-light travel observed ... of neutrinos, maybe

Faster-than-light travel obser...
The idea of matter traveling faster than light may no longer be limited to the realm of science fiction, as scientists have reported observing neutrinos doing exactly that (Photo: Osvaldo Gon)
The idea of matter traveling faster than light may no longer be limited to the realm of science fiction, as scientists have reported observing neutrinos doing exactly that (Photo: Osvaldo Gon)
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The idea of matter traveling faster than light may no longer be limited to the realm of science fiction, as scientists have reported observing neutrinos doing exactly that (Photo: Osvaldo Gon)
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The idea of matter traveling faster than light may no longer be limited to the realm of science fiction, as scientists have reported observing neutrinos doing exactly that (Photo: Osvaldo Gon)

According to Einstein's restricted theory of relativity, nothing can travel faster than light in a vacuum. Up until today, that had pretty much seemed to be the case, too. Early this morning, however, researchers from the Geneva-based OPERA project announced that the results from one of their recent experiments indicate that neutrinos can in fact outrun light particles.

Neutrinos are electrically-neutral subatomic particles, with almost no mass. The OPERA project has been studying the characteristics of a neutrino beam that is generated by the CERN accelerators in Geneva, Switzerland, and detected when it arrives 730 kilometers (454 miles) to the south at an underground laboratory in Gran Sasso, Italy.

It takes photons (light particles) 2.4 milliseconds to make the trip. When neutrinos were tested, however, they reached Gran Sasso 60 nanoseconds sooner - this amounts to them traveling 20 parts per million faster than the speed of light.

The scientists are stymied by the results. "This outcome is totally unexpected," stated CERN spokesperson Antonio Ereditato. "Months of research and verifications have not been sufficient to identify an instrumental effect that could explain the result of our measurements."

If the observations are in fact accurate, the implications for the world of physics will be staggering. To that end, OPERA has submitted its data to the scientific community for evaluation, and is encouraging other groups to attempt to replicate its results.

A seminar on the findings will be webcast live today by CERN at 4:00pm CEST.

18 comments
Adrien
this 60ns equates to 18m of distance.
If they have the path distance down to that precision I\'d be surprised.
in the end, it equates to a 0.002% difference from the normally accepted value of c.
If it were 10% I\'d be a lot more excited.
Slowburn
re; Adrien
The speed of light is thought to be an absolute limit. If their findings are in fact true it blows a hundred and six years of dogma out the window. The question becomes how much faster than light can we go, instead of how close to the speed of light can we go.
katgod
I like that you put maybe in the title this shows that your not running hook line and sinker like some journalist, or should I say sensationalists. Skepticism is the proper way to treat the possible change of 106 years of \"dogma\". I am not going to say it is impossible because the world is strange but I think Adrien has a very good point and think that an error in the measurement will be found.
Steve Laing
Is it really a breaking of the speed of light or a more accurate measurement of the speed of light? I\'d like to see if the new number is a finite measurement or the next marker to exceed.
Adrien
@Slowburn
the speed of light is measured. We do our best. We don\'t have any absolute vaccums to measure light\'s speed in.
So maybe we just got the original speed wrong. I\'m not suggesting things may travel faster than light. Maybe they just got the original speed of light wrong. Or maybe they just measured this experiment wrong.
Or maybe the speed for neutrinos is 0.002% faster than for photons through space (which isn\'t an absolute vaccuum either).
Quantum entanglement supposedly is faster than light too right?
piperTom
We have already measured the speed of neutrinos with great precision. In 1987 the neutrino burst associated with supernova 1987A was detected 3 hours before the light. Both neutrinos and light had been racing for 168,000 years and arrived on the same day. The 3 hour difference comes from the fact that the neutrinos flashed out directly from the supernova core collapse, while the light could not escape until the shock wave reached the surface of the star. So the \'tie\' in the race after 168 thousand lightyears means the speed of propagation of light and neutrinos is very, very, very close.
Also, ask yourself which is easier to believe: a) that one experiment could be off by 18 meters over 730 kilometers or by 0.06 microseconds time measured in different countries or b) a fundamental of modern physics that predicted thousands of experimental results over a century is plain wrong.
Carlos Grados
That is what science should be about- checking, observing, and making new hypothesis... dogma isn\'t a part of this scientific method.
christopher
Sounds obvious to me; they\'re not testing in a vacuum ?
Joe McGrew
@ Carlos Grados
Surely the speed would be slower than c then?
I think the ring shaped LHC needs to be ditched in favour of an (albeit very very long) straight line LHC to be more certain of the distance actually travelled by the neutrinos.
ringo the Baptist
\"Also, ask yourself which is easier to believe: a) that one experiment could be off by 18 meters over 730 kilometers or by 0.06 microseconds time measured in different countries or b) a fundamental of modern physics that predicted thousands of experimental results over a century is plain wrong.\"
Surely photons travel at the speed of light (by definition) - whatever it happens to be in the region in question.
Surely the \"speed of a nutrino\" is not too unlike the \"speed of a nutron\", that is it could be any arb value, depending on the speed it was accelerated to?
The only question here is if this acceleration could be sufficient to get their velocity higher than c.