Why I hope Neutrinos can travel faster than the speed of light
The BBC had a great programme on last week regarding the recent discovery by the OPERA experiment in Italy, done in collaboration with CERN. To cut a long story short Einstein’s theory of relativity states that the speed of light is an absolute universal speed limit and nothing made with any mass cannot travel faster than it. However, the OPERA experiment has measured Neutrinos (small subatomic particles with mass, albeit minuscule) travelling from the CERN LHC to the OPERA detector in Italy in a faster time that light.
Marcus de Sautoy investigates the claims from a mathematician’s perspective (so without the prejudice of being a physicist and this experiment going against everything you believe in). And this leads me to why I really hope this is true as when this was first announced many physicists were claiming this must be wrong, and citing caution (which i agree we mustn’t jump to conclusions) but the scientific community has to be open to something revolutionary like this otherwise they are no better than the religious leaders they condemn. Thankfully the programme suggests the scientific community are indeed open minded enough to accept this and investigate further. Similar results of Neutrinos travelling faster than light were recorded at Fermilab in 2007 however this anomaly was thought to be an error in the precision of the experiment. The OPERA anomaly has prompted Fermilab to repeat the experiment with more precision.
If these finding do indeed prove true then there are some interesting answers (other than “Einstein is wrong lets recycle 100 years of scientific research”), firstly Marcus de Sautoy points out that mathematically speaking it is possible for this to happen if Neutrinos are formed (and gain mass) whilst already travelling faster than light. The second more interesting possibility is that this could prove the multi-dimensional string theory and that these Neutrinos take a short cut via one of these other dimensions (or mem(branes)) explaining the results. This also means we live in the bulk.
If you are in the UK you can watch the episode in the embedded iPlayer above or directly on the BBC iPlayer website here.
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Photo courtesy Argonne National Laboratory.