The scientists running the OPERA detector in Italy detected some neutrinos from CERN 60 nanoseconds before photons travelling the same distance would have arrived. Hmm. Such data would indicate that the neutrinos are travelling faster than light. Hmm. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. These scientists are asking other scientists in the field to find the mistake in their research – so that’s ongoing.
Is This New?
We’ve seen this before. Neutrinos do not interact with anything (pretty much) – they sail through solid rock like it is empty space. Photons do interact, that’s why you can see. Imagine a race between two particle-people “N” and “P.” First, let’s have them both in empty space. They race from the Sun to the Earth (zoom!) and P wins by a bit. So we know P is faster. Now, let’s give P a handicap. P is going to race by swimming through molasses, while N still gets to run the race in empty space. Now who wins? Well, in this case N does, because he’s not hampered by the molasses. It is just like that with photons, they’re slowed down as they interact with matter – the Sun, the Earth, the solar wind, whatever is out there. The neutrinos just zip right through. So neutrinos from the middle of the Sun get to the Earth long before photons from the middle of the Sun – the photons have to get through all that Sun-material first. Neutrinos and photons from the surface of the Sun would arrive at Earth at about the same time though, because it’s mostly just space in between.
Three ideas about these FTL (faster than light) neutrinos:
1) They’re not faster than light, they’re just not interacting and the light is. This idea is simplistic and too easy for the scientists not to have ruled it out already.
2) Measurement error. As per the Bad Astronomer, these scientists need to measure the distance to within 3 meters exactly. Is that possible? Maybe. If they’re off by more than 3 meters, those 60 nanoseconds are probably just error.
3) The speed of neutrinos is pretty darn close to the speed of light, maybe our measurements before weren’t sensitive enough to pick up that the speed limit of the universe is the speed of neutrinos, not the speed of light. Now we have to go rewrite all of science fiction in addition to all of physics. What a pain.
Pretty much everyone is unconvinced, but no one has come up with a problem in the scientific evidence yet.
~ A l i c e !