Was Einstein wrong about our universe?

Experiments show neutrinos moving faster than the speed of light

This changes everything

Christophe Vander Eecken/Reporte/Redux

The life of the neutrino as we know it began amid personal chaos. Its existence was first postulated by Wolfgang Pauli, a brilliant but troubled Austrian physicist who at 20 wrote a definitive, 200-page book on Albert Einstein’s theory of relativity that Einstein himself admired, and at 25 proposed his “exclusion principle,” a fundamental statement on the behaviour of matter at the subatomic level that later earned him a Nobel Prize. Colleagues called him “God’s whip” and the “conscience of physics” for his ferocious skepticism and probing, often devastating questions. Yet he was also a prodigious drinker and carouser who, while lecturing at the University of Hamburg, was on intimate terms with the Reeperbahn, that city’s notorious red light district, and who suffered strange, haunting dreams.

The neutrino was perhaps Pauli’s least favourite of his contributions to modern physics. In the late 1920s, physicists examining the decay of radioactive materials such as uranium puzzled over a mysterious gap in the amount of energy they shed: they knew uranium emitted energy in the form of electrons, but when they added these electrons up they discovered that some energy was missing. Faced with this mathematical quandary, Pauli found himself forced in 1930 to accept the presence of an invisible and hitherto unknown neutral particle that could account for the loss—a ghostly spectre of the subatomic world. This was the neutrino. “It was the first time anyone ever postulated a missing particle,” says University of Toronto physicist Bob Orr. “Most people thought this was a really stupid idea.” Even Pauli himself called it a “terrible thing,” and he lamented that in proposing it he had “invented a particle that cannot be detected.” Indeed, he placed a standing bet—a case of champagne—on the notion that it never would be, outlining his ideas on the particle in a letter to colleagues that began: “Dear radioactive ladies and gentlemen.”

The improbable and bizarre dogged Pauli for the rest of his life, and have now caught up with his neutrino. Within months of penning that letter, Pauli’s marriage to Käthe Deppner, a Berlin cabaret dancer, collapsed. This, in combination with his mother’s suicide, sent him into a depressive tailspin, and he sought the treatment of Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung. The two men became friends and embarked upon a joint obsession with the numeral “137,” both believing it a sort of code that would unlock the secrets of the universe. It is perfectly by accident that when Pauli died in a hospital of pancreatic cancer in 1958, he did so in room 137.

Therefore he was still alive in 1956, when physicists conducting tests at the Savannah River nuclear reactor in South Carolina managed to capture neutrinos for the first time, netting them in a vat of heavy water (it’s not clear whether Pauli shipped his American colleagues that champagne). Suddenly here they were—real neutrinos, however hard to discern and however puzzling.

Last Friday, that puzzlement deepened when physicists in Europe said they had repeated an experiment, confirming controversial findings that were first reported in September in which neutrinos appeared to travel faster than the speed of light—an impossible result, according to our current understanding of physics, which says nothing can go faster than light.

In both instances scientists working on the so-called OPERA experiment at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) outside Geneva generated blasts of neutrinos and sent them south, through the rocky subterranean precincts beneath the Alps, then high into Italy’s Apennines mountains, where, near the city of L’Aquila, they popped up in a neutrino detector at the underground Gran Sasso National Laboratory—a distance, all told, of some 730 km. The latest OPERA findings appear to back those earlier results—the neutrinos arrived a shocking 60 billionths of a second or so faster than a beam of light.

Should that result hold up, physicists will either have to scrap Einstein’s theory of special relativity or accept a range of phenomena now confined to science fiction—for example, that an observer travelling past a swift-flying neutrino would witness the particle hurtling backwards in time and appear at its destination before beginning its journey. The confirmation, made by scientists working on the collaborative OPERA experiment, generated enormous international chatter among physicists, who remain skeptical of the results but who must nevertheless contemplate what it would mean if a faster-than-light, or “superluminal,” neutrino proves real. Such a development would upend everything we know about the concept of “causality,” opening up the possibility of time travel at the subatomic level, and even suggesting the existence of new, hitherto unknown dimensions. More than that, it might require us to contemplate the possibility of wormhole portals connecting a Geneva suburb with the mountains of central Italy. “It would be the most dramatic thing since Newton discovered universal gravitation,” says Orr.

Superluminal neutrinos would threaten to overthrow Einstein’s theory of special relativity, propounded in 1905, because in it Einstein established the speed of light as an absolute constant that’s fundamental to the workings of our universe. So far, special relativity has survived a century of scientific discovery and has become critical to our understanding of everything from astronomy to modern electronics—even to navigation systems like GPS. Its loss would be a major blow.

Indeed, the original OPERA findings were so astonishing that physicists worldwide dismissed them as fantastical, reflective of some underlying error in the experiment. Even some scientists in the OPERA collaboration (these endeavours have grown so complex and costly that large groups are increasingly the norm) refused to sign the draft paper drawn up after the experiment—an unusual display of internal dissent. An OPERA spokesman has reportedly said that all 200 of the participating scientists from 13 countries signed the draft following the second experiment, which improved upon the first by ruling out what critics felt must be the source of the September results: the bursts of neutrinos emanating from CERN were so long that the margin of error could have explained the perplexing results. And still there is skepticism (despite what the OPERA spokesman claims, the neutrino rumour mill among physicists over the past weekend held that, while scientists who did not sign the OPERA draft in September did sign the second, others who signed in September have now opted out).

For many physicists, the prospect of a superluminal neutrino is too much. “The most likely hypothesis was originally, and still is, that the experiment is wrong,” says Lee Smolin, a theoretical physicist at the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics in Waterloo, Ont., and the author of The Trouble With Physics: The Rise of String Theory, The Fall of a Science, and What Comes Next. “Of course, the experiment has the last word. If it is true it’s the most important experiment of our lifetimes.”

Still, bearing all the caveats against ditching Einstein in mind, it must be said that of all the creatures of the subatomic world, the neutrino is the most likely candidate to change how we think about the universe. We know less about it than any other particle, so mysterious, hard to observe, and strange is it. They are invisible, nearly weightless, shape-shifting things that, unlike electrons, their subatomic cousins, have no electric charge. Neutrinos therefore have little impact on the things they meet upon their travels—so feeble are their interactions with matter that they can pass through lead as easily as moonlight through a window. Generated by the decay of radioactive elements or nuclear reactions—such as occur during supernovas and in the core of the sun—they are likely among the most numerous subatomic particles in the universe and are constantly streaming down upon us, then through us like ghosts.

They have long been thought fast—just a hair slower than light, according to previous orthodoxy, as well as according to measurements taken during a shower of neutrinos that rained down upon Earth in 1987 as a result of a distant supernova.

Neutrinos can be as new as those generated in nuclear energy reactors or as old as the Big Bang itself, which scattered remnant neutrinos across the cosmos. All this makes understanding them crucial to our understanding of how the sun’s innards work, how stars die, and how the universe was born. “There’s all sorts of things that we don’t understand about the cosmos,” says Mark Chen, a neutrino physicist at Queen’s University and director of the SNO+ experiment at the Sudbury Neutrino Observatory in northern Ontario. “In our quest to understand the fundamental laws of nature, neutrinos play a big role despite their small size.”

Yet they’ve remained maddeningly unknowable. “You need to produce astronomical quantities of them if you want to see any,” says University of Toronto experimental particle physicist Pierre Savard, who works on the ATLAS particle physics experiment at CERN. Herein lay the major hurdle for the OPERA scientists, who have toiled for two months to rework their experiment and test their earlier result. In both cases the experiments began with the OPERA group at CERN shooting photons—particles of light—into the great coil of the complex’s particle accelerator. Carefully aimed into Italy, the photons then collide with a graphite target to produce a shower of charged particles, which in turn decay into neutrinos. These particles continue on the same trajectory through the Earth to the Gran Sasso lab, where some leave traces of their arrival in bricks of photographic emulsion film interwoven with lead plates. Because scientists must bombard Gran Sasso with copious quantities of neutrinos just to capture a handful, measuring their speed is like clocking the departure and arrival of a herd of cats (with all the headaches of measuring down to the billionth of a second and of synchronizing watches between Geneva and Gran Sasso). Now the cats have been corralled and the results are the same—that the neutrinos arrived in Gran Sasso sooner than light could. Sooner, in other words, than they really should have.

In conversation, physicists wondering at the experiments from afar are almost too abashed to discuss what it would mean were the findings corroborated or refuted—as they may soon be at the Fermilab in the American Midwest. Dump relativity? “That would have serious impacts on your and my ability to even speak,” says physicist Charles Dyer, of the University of Toronto. “If special relativity is incorrect then issues of causality would raise their ugly heads—we could do some very fancy things, like going back in close time, and we could have statements like ‘A’ and ‘not A’ being both true at the same time.”

Yet it may also turn out both that the experiment’s results are correct and that neutrinos are still sticking to Einstein’s speed limit. “Another possibility,” says Savard, “is invoking extra dimensions of space. Maybe the neutrinos are not necessarily going faster than the speed of light, but taking shortcuts.” Savard stops himself, exclaiming of the OPERA experiment: “It’s an interesting result, but we will need much stronger experimental confirmation before we start speculating as to what this could mean.” Chen, the Queen’s prof, who is on sabbatical at Oxford, is less circumspect—and almost giddy. “Maybe neutrinos are travelling through wormholes and other dimensions—taking a shortcut—so then by travelling through this wormhole, not only can you violate causality but it enables you to travel in time and generate effects before their cause. So all of that science fiction is connected to this observation. And that’s what makes it fun.”

Wolfgang Pauli’s “terrible thing,” the poor neutrino, sure has travelled far.


Was Einstein wrong about our universe?

  1. There’s a couple of things that I feel like pointing out. Since the original experiment, there has been a fine tuned experiment that allowed for a measurement of each individual neutrino and they’ve still moved faster than the speed of light. What I would say to all those stuck up physicists, who claim that it is impossible that there could be anything that moves faster than the speed of light, that they are beginning to resemble scientists who one believed that the Earth was the centre of the Universe and were sure that any other hypothesis is wrong. So what that there is something faster. It just means that we are heading somewhere since we are making new discoveries. Just because we never before found anything that would break the speed limit which we’ve believed to be an ultimate speed, it doesn’t mean that we know or knew everything. Clearly there are faster things in the Universe than photons. Secondly, why would the fact the neutrinos could move faster than the speed of light mean that they could go back in time? That statement is clearly only based on an assumption that the ultimate speed limit is the speed of light. What if we’ve just discovered that there is a new speed limit that is larger than the speed of light. For what we know, perhaps the light speed can be broken multiple times just as the speed of sound can and it doesn’t have to mean that you go backwards through time. Perhaps it only means that you go faster…..

    • Hi Ivan, just a note:

      They can’t really detect individual neutrinos, which is one thing that makes these experiments so difficult. Generally they have to create millions of neutrinos just to detect a single one at the arrival point. The damn things have very very little mass and no charge, and readily pass through any material you can name, no matter how thick.

      They tried shortening the burst periods to give a better sense of timing in the latest run, but that only answers some of the critics objections.

      And for the record, the reason why the speed of light is such a big deal is that it is very much tied to our understanding of space and time as well as the equivalency of matter and energy.

      I would suggest that the speed of light is probably correctly labelled as an absolute, but that we have to keep in mind that this may only apply in terms of 3D+1T dimensional space.

    • Ivan,  What if we’ve just discovered that there is a new speed limit that is larger than the speed of light.. It is a valid point. Hope other experiments will also confirm neutrino will move with velocity greater than velocity of light. If so, then that will open exciting things. But at the same time, some where feeling is that  they confirm neutrino are not moving faster than light and this experiments end with whimper as happened for “Cold Fusion” – once thought as experiment of  the century.  Any way, for we the lover of Science – an exciting time. 

    • you obviously don’t know much about physics then

  2. This isn’t even the first experiment that suggests neutrino’s could travel faster than light. A couple years ago a neutrino experiment at Fermilab also showed they could travel faster than light. However, because of the lack of the type of precision one requires, they couldn’t really confirm the result within a reasonable margin and as a result they assumed it simply wasn’t true since relativity has been so carefully tested over the years.

    However, now we have two new experimental runs showing the same result. Clearly we need to have this independently verified through other experiments as much as possible to remove doubt, because if it is true, one way or another its telling us something new about the universe.

    Neutrinos are one of the particles listed as a possible (even if only fractional) explanation for dark matter, (ie, since they barely interact with matter and have no charge, they’re nearly impossible to detect and could explain why we didn’t see them and account for them in our models) and given that all stars and all forms of radiation create neutrinos, it shouldn’t be surprising that a multi-billion year old universe should have a lot of them kicking around causing gravitational effects.

    On a side note, I doubt very much that this really means time travel is possible in any macro sense.

    It’ll probably turnout to be some sort of mechanism that either only appears to make them go faster than light (just like particle entanglement at a distance appears to show transmission of positional/spin information faster than light) or that they do so through a mechanism that isn’t related to speed so much as bending through space or some other such thing (for example utilizing warps/folds in space to jump distances rather than actually travelling them through normal space, or I suppose the string theory types might claim extra dimensions).

    In any case, I suspect the results are not just an error, but are telling us something interesting about the nature of the universe that will become clearer over time.

    • I’ve had a ‘thing’ for neutrinos ever since I first heard of them.  It has always instinctively felt to me that they were the ‘key’ to unlocking . . . something.  And while I agree that in a macro sense it is highly unlikely we will ever travel through time–how about a neutrino message?  Sadly, it wouldn’t tell the past anything if we sent one off tomorrow, since they’d have to know neutrino’s existed, and how to decipher a message system we haven’t developed yet, but we could RECEIVE a message tomorrow (or as soon as we develop the aforementioned system).  Wouldn’t it be great to know, conclusively, if climate change is the serious, too late disaster we are nowhere near to avoiding, or if we can forget all the fear-mongering and go about our profitizing ways?

      • I suspect however that neutrinos travelling “faster than light” aren’t really doing so in a way that information could be transferred, not to mention the difficulties in using them in this manner, even if they could.

        For example, consider particle entanglement. Two particles that are entangled can be separated by light years and yet when the spin is determined by measurement (ie the probability wave is “collapsed”, the spin of the other is determined as well). However, this does not break the speed of light maximum because there is no practical physical or informational exchange in any way.

        Even if this example isn’t relevant in the case of neutrinos, and say the neutrinos are actually travelling through folds in space or extra dimenions, you still have the issue of efficiency. Our ability to detect specific neutrinos is exactly zero at this point, and there is no known or hypothesized method by which one could improve this capture above strictly random hit or miss methods. This means that as an informational exchange medium, neutrinos are practically useless at this stage.

        Consider also that many leading edge theoretical physicists today (such as Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow and other leading string theorists) believe that we actually change the past through observation by collapsing undetermined probability waves and thus further differentiating our universe from others in the multiverse. If that model is correct, the past isn’t even 100% determined, so the question becomes: If you can send messages into the past… to what past are you sending that message and will it even affect your universe rather than spawning a new universe in which that message was received, therefore making the whole proposition pointless?

        As a thinking exercise you may find this interesting if you haven’t already seen it:


        • Isn’t the spin change an informational exchange of some sort? That is, if we could purposefully alter the spin, and could read the change in spin, couldn’t that be used as a binary (at least) signal?

          Now, I do understand that at those levels, reading the spin without losing the particle itself may be an impossible task, but theoretically isn’t that some sort of informational exchange?

          • An excellent question which has forced me to revise the comment you responded to since it was inacurrate. We don’t actually “change” the “spin” in some controlled physical way, but cause the superposition to collapse through measurement. This IS changing the state of the particle, but this isn’t a controlled change in the sense that we get to set the spin, but a change resulting from measurement of what IS at THAT MOMENT.

            Furthermore, you’re right about losing the particle, since you can’t know both the position and momentum of a particle simultaneously (Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle).

            So even if you could find a way to purposefully change the spin, you’d lose track of the other particle’s position! LOL

            The conclusion being of course that you can’t use it to transfer information in any way. So far.

          • Yes, you can.  You just can’t measure both axis.  Or so it seemed when we used the spin of entangled particles as the messaging system in my course on quantum mechanics (or the physics of impossible things, I’m now getting the courses mixed up).  But I don’t know if a neutrino could be entangled, or of course how you could measure something you mostly can’t even detect.  But these seem much lesser problems to solve than time travel. :)

          • @2Jenn:disqus  My understanding is that while you can indeed measure one and then the other, you can’t measure them at the same time. Moreover, the more accurately you measure one, the less accurately you can measure the other right?

            And if you can’t know the position and momentum in the same time frame with equal accuracy, and if the changes in position and momentum are unpredictable, what use can you make of it?

            In fact, if you change the spin of one partner, then the system isn’t isolated anymore, so are they even still entangled with the other?

            Too many questions! LOL

          • @2Jenn:disqus Now of course I’ve been out of university now for two decades and only occasionally look at recent developments so maybe I’m out of date? 

            That said, another thing occurs to me.

            Even if you CAN determine spin and location AND effectively change the spin of a particle without decoupling the entanglement, (ie if quantum computers become reality) you’d still be confined by relativity in terms of communication to some degree.

            Let’s say you want to communicate with a base in Alpha Centauri. In order to communicate faster than light, you’d have to entangle the particles in your communication devices and then send one component to Alpha Centauri, while ensuring that system isn’t corrupted by outside impacts (very difficult), and presumably you’d have to do this slower than the speed of light.

            I suppose once you have the two sides set up you could THEN communicate faster than light, but I still wonder how much useful information you could actually send?

          • We have the internet. How much useful information do we send now? :)

          • @Thwim:disqus Touche! LOL

      • Another thing to consider is that many theoretical physicists don’t even believe that “time” exists. To them this is a simple measurement of change, ie a measurement of entropy.

        They often cite the 2nd law of thermodynamics that governs entropy and suggest that travelling backward in “time” would really mean that you’ve found a method to not only negate the 2nd law but reverse it completely. Since entropy is fundamental to the nature of our universe, their view is that it is a completely nonsensical proposition showing a fundamental lack of understanding of the nature of “time”.

        It’s not difficult to understand when you consider this example:

        A tank of hot water dyed red dumped into a tank of cold water dyed blue. Over time the two will mix into one another, share their energy and become purple.

        In order to go backward in time you would need a method to reverse this so that the warm red water and all its energy can naturally separate itself from the cold blue water and its lesser energy.

        Keeping in mind that you can’t use a distillment method of any sort (since this would in fact still result in increased entropy rather than reducing it) the problem becomes unsolvable.

        I mean think about it: what would the nature of reality have to be that it would make a preference for warm red molecules to separate themselves from cold blue ones, when that’s a completely arbitrary reaction not built upon by normal laws? How could you even exist as a human being if this was the nature of reality?

        Seems to me that the only travelling “back in time” would have to be a dimensional shift in a “horizontal” fashion to a less evolved universe, which isn’t really time travel at all, but dimensional shifting.

        • Okay. That makes sense to me.  I’ve always thought that time is simply a human construct we use to keep causality ordered:  A causes B, A must have occurred before B, therefore there is time between A and B.

          But “time” in that sense is just something we’ve made up to explain causality in a logical manner — kind of like how a plus sign is something we’ve made up to explain/define additive properties — no real existence to it outside of our minds (albeit in which it is extremely useful) so any ideas of travelling “through” it in any direction are nonsensical. 

          I’ve always thought, though, that I must be missing something, because I hadn’t heard of any physicists with similar conclusions.. nice to find out that I simply hadn’t looked hard enough.

          • Well that’s the trick isn’t it? We can only ever “model” things and rate them by the accuracy of their predictive qualities as derived from how well it matches experimental observations, which are of course questionable (due to subjectivity and methodological limitation) in and of themselves, which is why repetition is relied upon so heavily for “verification” purposes.

            However, if neutrinos do turnout to move faster than light either in an absolute sense or by accessing facets or laws of reality we can’t yet account for, then a century of “verification” of special relativity didn’t tell us everything we thought it did, since in our ignorance we were only really testing one aspect of reality! LOL

            So I’d say that while our ability to model, (ie predict), has improved considerably, we’re still very far away from any true understanding of the nature of reality in an absolute sense.

            Questions concerning the nature of “consciousness” (which underlies all observation and has demonstrable but unexplained effects on quantum particles) are probably central to a true understanding, and of course we’re absolutely nowhere in that regard. LOL

  3. The OPERA recorded speed of Neutrino which is
    more than light.  Before 23 years, I had
    proved mathematically that relative velocity may be more than light velocity.
    CERN proved experimentally that velocity of Neutrinos may be more than light, if
    this news will be confirmed then that will be new beginning of physics. So,
    it is necessary to think different than old concept of science.
                Please read
    paper “What is matter & dark matter is made up of?” on my web
    site http://www.maheshkhati.com. This paper may help to find solution to this problem
    & other problems like what is dark matter? & about true relativity.  I strongly oppose special theory of relativity.

  4. This makes reading Dan Brown’s  “Angels And Demons” and its CERN discovery of antimatter part of the plot almost believable.

    • Same with our own Robert J. Sawyer and his Hominids series, and that begins in Sudbury!

  5. Theoretical superluminal neutrinos have been postulated by a few ‘fringe’ researchers in Britain since the 1960’s.  Yes, some of these researchers were known as King’s College Nutters, but, still…their math was sound, if a bit strange.  The postulate was well enough known to have neutrinos sneak into some British Science Fiction novels, movies, and television during the 1970’s. 

    Maybe, JUST MAYBE, they weren’t as Nutters as originally thought–and then again, the experiment could just be WRONG. 

    Rather than dismiss it–CHECK IT.  Relativity is 106 years old–it’s time it had a bit of a shake up. 

  6. Doesn’t Special Realtivity only postulate that mass cannot achieve speed of light because the mass would be infinite, and is silent on FTL (Faster That Light).
    The problem then is getting to the FTL, that’s the one that twists me.
    Interesting times for sure

    • Well it also leads to energy equations for instance that would describe the KE of a faster-than-light particle as well impossible.  That said, even if this turns out to be true, relativity is far from dead, it led to many true predictions, so one false one doesn’t mean you throw out the entire theory, it means you need to find a way to revise it.

    • My understanding is that when matter reaches the speed of light it BECOMES energy and is no longer matter at all. So the incredible amounts of energy you’d have to dump into it simply alters the form of the matter it’s acting upon.

      Thus the “limit” is more of a practical consideration, ie you can’t make a mode of travel that goes faster than light, because you’d “destroy” whatever matter was travelling that fast and turn it into undifferentiated energy.

      So particles with even only a tiny amount of mass shouldn’t be able to go faster than light because they’d cease to be tiny amounts of mass.

      My guess (if the experiment turns out to be correct) is that we are observing either jumps in the warps/folds of space or similarily jumps through extra dimensions, so that they are not technically moving faster than light.

      This would explain why they could both be clocked at a faster than light speed AND why the  ICARUS experiment’s observation that no radiating decay products like photons and electron pairs were observed, would be correct.

      If no other more practical objection turn out to be correct (such as the recent suggestion that the relative observation point and movement of the GPS satellite wasn’t considered) then one practical upshot of this result would be that there may be a way to create a “warp engine” that would allow space vessels to create “warp bubbles” to bend space around them and thus moving them faster than light without actually doing so in the conventional sense. (highly speculative of course, but still. lol)

      I have to admit however that the GPS satellite point is pretty strong, and only if OPERA has considered this point already would it not answer the question entirely. :(

      • That’s an interesting concept, too.  What if the quantum particle (which also works as a wave) loses its superposition abilities at faster than light, and “warps” into one or the other only?  In other words, it goes faster than light by the energy derived by the mass ceasing to exist as a particle and transferring that additional energy to the wave? 

        I’m loving this stuff.

        • Except that there wouldn’t be any neutrino to measure if that’s the case, since it has become energy, so the only way that would work is if the neutrino’s supposed “mass” is an artifact of some other principle, and thus not really “mass” as we understand it. I mean neutrinos are already the weirdo cousin in the mix eh? LOL

          Frankly though that seems even farther “out there” than the simpler explanation of spacewarps or additional dimensions, so I’m not touching that one anymore than I already have! LOL

  7. The universe is big. 
    There probably isn’t any such thing as a straight line.
    If there are no straight lines, then all lines must be curved/have a curve, however imperceptibly slight.
    How then can we be sure that we are not, in effect, seeing the same objects from different directions and different stages in time?  

    • We know that space is curved due to gravity.  And your last question is the very essence of relativity, is it not, in that we do know that what you might see of an event is remarkably different than what I might see, depending on where each of us is when viewing the event.  And if we view the event at different times on top of that, we have a very hard time coming to terms with the fact that it is the same event. 

      So, if we remove relativity, perhaps our instinctive attitude of two different events is really the true answer, huh?  The mind actually boggles!

      • I just spent a good 20 minutes staring (ha!) at the ceiling as your post sent me on a revelry on the nature of the universe.  After reaching several very important conclusions I realized why some people really dig science: it is endorphin releasing behaviour.  Wouldn’t that just beat all if it turns out that the actual reason people built CERN, nuclear reactors and other such instruments of science was because it was of their completely sublimated desire for getting high?

        No, I am not on drugs, but I might have post-concussion syndrome.  

        • Good.  I get giddy with it.

  8. One of the most important things in case of neutrino has not mentioned – the spin and conservation of Lepton number. In fact, these two ultimately led for the discovery of “Pauli’s Ghost” Very informative and one of the most beautifully written one regarding Neutrino. I to  have written on riddles of Neutrino – in Kannada language – for common man. 

  9. Lets all count to five and wait for one of the scientists from the future to leave a post to explain everything. Otherwise we can assume it’s bunkham and we need to look elsewhere, ready.. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5!

    Bunkham it is then…

  10. You would think you would do a bit of research before writing such a long winded article.  The cause of the dependency was found.   If you add up the numbers, you find the exact amount the neutrinos where measured arriving early, is the SR corrections for the motions of the GPS satellite.   The problem is not that they failed to correct for this effect, but that they did correct for this effect when the GPS system already corrects for it.  (It would have to get an accuracy of less than 50 meters.)   So by correcting for this a second time, they skewed the clocks and both ends, so that they were not in sync. 

    • Except of course that this hasn’t been confirmed so far as I can tell. So far it’s just a point of contention being raised. OPERA has to come out with a statment as to whether or not this was or wasn’t considered.

      If you’ve seen this statement by OPERA, by all means, pass it along!

      Cheers, PK

  11. As a biologist I don’t know enough about either the theory or the experiment to comment intelligently.  However, these experiments, and the reaction to them, show science at its best.  A basic principle of science is that the more extraordinary the claim the more extraordinary the evidence needed to test it.  In other words, the sceptics are completely justified in their reaction.  The scientists involved in this second experiment took pains to take into account the criticisms – as they should.  If, after all reasonable alternative hypotheses have been excluded, the result stands, then (to quote Lee Smolin, who doubts the claim) “Of course, the experiment has the last word. If it is true it’s the most important experiment of our lifetimes.”

    If only the House of Commons was populated with scientists rather than lawyers and business people…

  12. Since, it hasn’t come up in the thread ( and to help ColdStanding’s late transference to nerdville) it should be pointed out why scientists are so skeptical about the result.  It is in part, due to the fact that Special Relativity is so highly successful, and only partly due to the fact that a very heavy dose of statistical analysis is required to pull out the anomalous arrival time for the neutrinos in the OPERA experiment.  There is also another very sensitive measurement of neutrino’s velocity wrt light.

    Neutrino’s are produced in copious amounts during supernova.  In the late 80’s a supernova occured relatively close and a short neutrino burst was detected on Earth.  Interestingly, the neutrinos got here before the light from the supernova, but only a little bit.  A simple interpretation of the OPERA result would have led to the neutrinos arriving months ahead rather than hours.  (Astrophysicists actually expected the neutrinos first because they are generated at the early stages of the collapse, while the light is obscured by surrounding matter i.e. the result was considered consistent with speed of light neutrinos)  There are plenty of “outs”, for example the OPERA neutrinos had very different energies than the supernova neutrinos but it means that either there is a flaw in the experimental analysis of OPERA or neutrino physics is extraordinarily messy.

    • As I understand it, if the neutrinos were moving at the speed noted in the OPERA experiment, they would’ve in fact arrived from supernova 1987A FOUR YEARS before the light did.

      Were we even looking for them at that point?

      It’s an important question because it could be that only a certain amount of neutrinos would’ve travelled that fast, (ie there is a mechanism involved that is catapulting them from the start point that is a temporary effect in the progression of a supernova rather than a persistent one) and thus easily missed or misinterpreted.

      Given that the context of the neutrino generation seems pretty darn important, I’m not really even sure what to make of comparisons to 1987A.

      • Thanks for fixing the time adjustment.  As to whether we were looking… it is an interesting question: Kamioka was in the middle of being upgraded but the Russian and American detectors should have been operational.  However, since they were less sensitive they might not have picked up on an earlier burst.  (Indeed, they might not have even reported on it, thinking it was a glitch.)

        • Yeah, all in all I don’t think we can rely on the observation concerning 1987A for a number of reasons.  Not that it is neccesarily wrong. It’s just not reliable enough to consider a successful refutation in my opinion.

  13. I’m still waiting for the article that investigates how dumping relativity would work on a practical level.

     If relativity is disproven, then every physics (or just about any science, really) textbook in the world would immediately become inaccurate, and every school in the world would suddenly need new ones that no one has written. Would people with physic’s degrees need to go back to school in order to keep them? Are Canada’s school boards ready for this?How does science actually implement a paradigm shift of this magnitude. That’s what I want to know. 

    • Relativity would not be “dumped” in the sense that you imagine.  Its predictions of mass increasing with velocity and the slowing of time for fast moving objects have been verified on many occasions.  So any “new” theory would have to make the same predictions.  Relativity would have to be approximately correct rather than exactly correct and so it would join Newtonian mechanics as a very necessary and useful (but ultimately not exact) theory.

  14. These experiments are not yet the final word Ivan. Lots of repeatable experiments need to be done before it becomes accepted. You don’t just turn a century-old theory on its ear without a lot of leg work. 

    • And in any case, as StewartSmith points out, relativity won’t be “dumped” anymore than Newton’s Law of Gravitation was “dumped”.

      Laws/theories are about producing reliable predictions, and Newton’s Law still works quite well in many cases and is still perfectly usable in a great many applications. Einstein’s relativity was an improvement in predicting certain types of large scale interactions in addition to those reliably predicted by Newton, which is why it was adopted.

      No one at any time however should assume that this means we know FOR SURE what all the variables are or what the essence of these things is.

      We can merely predict very accurately the interactions of what we’re capable of observing.

      That’s it, that’s all.

      I mean for pete’s sake, we still don’t have experimental verification to justify the standard model of particle physics’ contentions concerning mass. Think faster than light neutrinos cause an issue? Try considering what happens to particle physics if the Higgs Boson and thus the Higgs mechanism can’t be experimentally supported! LOL

  15. In response to the article’s title, which is a question…NO, this doesn’t mean Einstein was wrong. The title does 2 things:1) It catches your attention because it sounds sensational, and;2) It infers that Einstein claimed that nothing can travel faster than the speed of light. (He never made this claim.)
    While his theories show that accelerating and travelling AT the speed of light is more or less impossible, he never claimed that bridging that barrier was impossible.

    By the way, by mentioning that physicists may have to decide whether or not to “scrap Einstein’s Theory of Special Relativity” is just silly. Stop it Macleans, you can do better than sensationalism.

    Point of this post:
    A title should represent what the story contains, rather than infer false information by misrepresenting scientific theories.

    Cheers. :)

  16. very well written article …very understandable

  17. “the OPERA group at CERN shooting photons—particles of light—into the great coil of the complex’s particle accelerator”
    Really? I’m pretty sure it’s PROTONS that are shot at the target, and they aren’t particles of light, are they?

    • It was indeed a PROTON beam they were using to generate the neutrinos. It was the profile of that beam in fact that has generated some of the criticism.

      It’s an understandable error though for people who know little about the topic, and are hearing how the neutrinos are out-pacing light photons right?

      Good catch though. I skimmed right over it.

  18. The story began with me in 1996, when I finish my project of my graduation in BA. It was regarded to unifying between Quantum theory (Copenhagen school), and relativity theory of Einstein. I introduced in my research that it is possible measuring the velocity of the particle to be greater than light speed in vacuum, but the actual velocity is not greater than c. in 2007-2008, the quantum tunneling experiments for G. Nimtz were good support for my proposal, but it was required for an experiment for particles which own rest mass greater than zero. OPera experiment now proof my theory. To understand how could I predict the possibility of measuring speeds greater than the speed of light review my paper inhttp://vixra.org/pdf/1111.0001v1.pdf

  19. The problem is not in the OPERA experiment. The problem is how to understand the special relativity according to the concepts, principles and laws of Quantum theory (Copenhagen school). Einstein dependent depended on his derivation of his equation of relativity on the objective existence of the phenomenon, But according to Copenhagen school the observer has the main formation of the phenomenon. Quantum tunneling experiments have shown that 1) the tunneling process is non-local, 2) the signal velocity is faster than light, i.e. superluminal, 3) the tunneling signal is not observable, since photonic tunneling is described by virtual photons, and 4) according to the experimental results, the signal velocity is infinite inside the barriers, implying that tunneling instantaneously acts at a distance. We think these properties are not compatible with the claims of many textbooks on Special Relativity [1-9, 16]. The results produced by our modified special relativity theory are in agreement with the results produced by quantum tunneling experiments as noted above, and thus it explains theoretically what occurs in quantum tunneling. It proves the events inside the tunneling barrier should occur at a faster rate than the usual situation in the laboratory. It provides a new concept of time speedup which is not existed in special relativity theory. The concept of time speedup in our theory is proven by many experiments where some enzymes operate kinetically, much faster than predicted by the classical G . In “through the barrier” models, a proton or an electron can tunnel through activation barriers [11, 12]. Quantum tunneling for protons has been observed in tryptamine oxidation by aromatic amine dehydrogenase [13]. Also British scientists have found that enzymes cheat time and space by quantum tunneling – a much faster way of traveling than the classical way – but whether or not perplexing quantum theories can be applied to the biological world is still hotly debated. Until now, no one knew just how the enzymes speed up the reactions, which in some cases are up to a staggering million times faster [14]. Seed Magazine published a fascinating article about a group
    of researchers who discovered a bit more about how enzymes use quantum tunneling to speed up chemical reactions [15]. The modified special relativity theory answers all the preceding questions. In the case of the OPERA experiment, it is produced a frame with time speeding up. thus inside the tunnel in which the neutrino moving the clocks and events is moving faster than our clocks. Thus from this point, when the neutrino reaching to the end of his trip to the tunnel end and passed the length of the tunnel L for an observer stationary inside the tunnel and this observer (inside the tunnel) measured a time separation t for this event, at this moment, the observer on the earth will not see the neutrino reached to the end of his trip but it is still in L’=gama^-1*L, and this passed in a time separation t’=gama^-1*t. Thus when the neutrino reaches to the end of the tunnel according to an observer inside the tunnel it is actually reached to the end and it will be received by our detectors. Thus we will think that the neutrino is jumped from L’ to L at a zero time separation and when we divide the passed distance L/t’ which is the time recorded according to our clocks we will get the velocity of the neutrino greater than the speed of light in vacuum where t’ less than t. But this velocity is not actual. The actual velocity is given according to L/t, which t is time measured by observer stationary inside the tunnel and this velocity is not exceeding the speed of light. Now when we see the neutrino jumped from L’ to L in a zero time separation we see the neutrino at two places at same time. This is confirmed In March 2010 researchers at UC Santa Barbara have provided the first clear demonstration that the theory of quantum mechanics applies to the mechanical motion of an object large enough to be seen by the naked eye. In a related experiment, they placed the mechanical resonator in a quantum superposition, a state in which it simultaneously had zero and one quantum of excitation. This is the energetic equivalent of an object being in two places at the same time. I want to mention here gama^-1 is not depending on the velocity of the neutrino, but depending on the difference of the potential between the frame of neutrino moving and the observer on the lab located and this depends on many factors like, pressure, temperature and mass…etc. where in this case the observer on the lab. located on a higher potential. To understand more about my new relativity, review;http://vixra.org/pdf/1111.0001v1.pdf

  20. I hope this neutrino speed thing is true because if true, it should only take a short time for some brainiac to invent a new high speed internet based on super fast neutrinos.  Imagine the possibilities; for example imagine Google giving me the answer before I finish typing the question!!!

  21. All I can say at this point is that while one cannot absolutely rule out the possibility of the experiment being flawed, we cannot just reject some result just because we think it would devastate our current understanding of the universe….i mean if it takes that, so be it. Let everything be re-modeled if it has to be, even if it would cause chaos, for we cannot just build on something wrong. It has happened so many times before and is, perhaps, only natural to happen again. So lets take up the challenge being the human race.

Sign in to comment.