free debate

September 23, 2011

Particles Travelling Faster than the Speed of Light: Not So Fast

"No testimony is sufficient to establish a miracle, unless the testimony be of such a kind, that its falsehood would be more miraculous than the fact which it endeavors to establish." -David Hume
The Internet is a-buzz as scientists from CERN research facilities in Gran Sasso National Laboratory, Italy are saying they have been observing neutrinos traveling faster than the speed of light. Neutrinos are low mass particles that can literally pass through light years of lead without interacting. These scientists are claiming that the particles arrived at the detector 60 nanoseconds faster than they should have at the speed of light. That may not sound like much, but the scientists running the project say their measurements are accurate to within 10 nanoseconds. So, if true what would this mean?

The speed of light as a cosmic speed limit is fundamental to Einstein's theory of relativity. Relativity is one of the most successful theories in all of physics. Undermining the speed of light as a cosmic speed limit undermines the foundation of much of relativity. I'm not going to go into all the detials here but if you want a better understanding I recommend Why does E=mc2? (And Why Should We Care?) by Brian Cox and Jeff Forshaw.

For me, it comes down to the David Hume quote above. As far as physics are concerned, this is a miracle. Could it be true, but before we accept it the evidence should be overwhelming. Right now we have a very interesting result. Also, I have to say these scientists are doing awesome work. This is not some crank on YouTube saying he proved Einstein wrong. I am really interested to see what happens as labs around the world try and replicate this effect. If the result is due to some error, we still learn something new; if not, physicists are going to have some serious work to do.