Sunday, September 25, 2011

Cheating Neutrinos Jumped The Starting Gun: Physics Ref Failed To Notice

Reuters reported on Friday night that a team of Italian scientists had detected some neutrinos travelling faster than the speed of light.

As a physics student myself, my first reaction was: Hell NO. Freaking impossible.

In fact I was soon joined by many professional physicists who'd also expressed their reservations on the matter. It simply doesn't make sense.

Carl Sagan once said that "extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence." If your experiment seems to break the laws of physics, especially one that is so fundamental and has been proven experimentally over and over again, then chances are you know you've made a mistake than a discovery.
What happened was that a team of physicists created neutrinos at CERN in Geneva. Neutrinos are massless particles that travel at the speed of light (prior to this ground-breaking news). In a fraction of a second, some of them entered a detector called OPERA in Italy where they were recorded. When the scientists calculated the speed of the neutrinos that came, they found the neutrinos got to Italy about 60 nanoseconds faster than a photon (light particle) would.
60 nanoseconds. That's 0.000000060, doesn't seem to make that much of a difference but hey, it threatens to dismantle one the most fundamental laws of physics. So it's only natural for all other physicists to regard this news with a lot of skepticism.
Moreover, plenty of other scientists are using the Supernova that happened in 1987 as an example to refute this faster-than-light claim.
Supernova (SN) 1987A was a supernova in the outskirts of the Tarantula Nebula in the Large Magellanic Cloud, a nearby dwarf galaxy. It occurred approximately 168,000 light-years from Earth, close enough that it was visible to the naked eye.

When a star dies it releases multiple blasts of particles, including neutrinos. So when SN 1987A exploded neutrinos and photons went out in all direction and some of them headed to our Earth.

The paper quotes a fractional difference between neutrino speed and that of light of

 (2.48 ± 0.28 (stat.) ± 0.30 (sys.)) x 10-5

The neutrinos from SN1987A traveled so far (168,000 light-years) that had they been moving 0.0000248 meter/second faster than light, they would’ve arrived here almost four years before the light did.

However, the light got here only three hours later than the neutrinos. And the lag could be explained by accounting the time it takes for the explosion to eat its way out of the star’s core to its surface. So it's not about neutrinos moving faster than light; it's about why light didn't arrive early.
But still, the researchers are not at fault, and in fact they are asking for criticism on their work. The work has yet to be properly published or peer reviewed, let alone scrutinized or replicated by the scientific community. At the time the Reuters report appeared, the researchers hadn't even uploaded their draft paper to Arxiv, the pre-print repository. And hence this can't yet be presented as 'fact', but that's exactly what mainstream media like Reuters chose to do with their headline, "Particles found to break speed of light". Nature News posted a similar headline, "Particles break light-speed limit" and declared "Neutrino results challenge cornerstone of modern physics."

And these sortta headlines give rise to this kinda brainless comment on Facebook.

This just gives me one more reason to dislike mainstream media.

info: 11/09/22/faster-than-light-travel-discovered-slow-down-folks/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed:+DiscoverMag+(Discover+Magazine)

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