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BBC News – Speed-of-light experiments give baffling result at Cern

Speed-of-light experiments give baffling result at Cern

22 September 2011 Last updated at 13:28 ET By Jason Palmer Science and technology reporter, BBC News
Albert Einstein during a lecture in Vienna in ...

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Puzzling results from Cern, home of the LHC, have confounded physicists – because it appears subatomic particles have exceeded the speed of light.

Neutrinos sent through the ground from Cern toward the Gran Sasso laboratory 732km away seemed to show up a tiny fraction of a second early.

The result – which threatens to upend a century of physics – will be put online for scrutiny by other scientists.

In the meantime, the group says it is being very cautious about its claims.

“We tried to find all possible explanations for this,” said report author Antonio Ereditato of the Opera collaboration.

“We wanted to find a mistake – trivial mistakes, more complicated mistakes, or nasty effects – and we didn’t,” he told BBC News.

“When you don’t find anything, then you say ‘Well, now I’m forced to go out and ask the community to scrutinise this.'”

Caught speeding?

The speed of light is the Universe’s ultimate speed limit, and much of modern physics – as laid out in part by Albert Einstein in his special theory of relativity – depends on the idea that nothing can exceed it.

Thousands of experiments have been undertaken to measure it ever more precisely, and no result has ever spotted a particle breaking the limit.

But Dr Ereditato and his colleagues have been carrying out an experiment for the last three years that seems to suggest neutrinos have done just that.

Neutrinos come in a number of types, and have recently been seen to switch spontaneously from one type to another.

The team prepares a beam of just one type, muon neutrinos, sending them from Cern to an underground laboratory at Gran Sasso in Italy to see how many show up as a different type, tau neutrinos.

In the course of doing the experiments, the researchers noticed that the particles showed up a few billionths of a second sooner than light would over the same distance.

The team measured the travel times of neutrino bunches some 15,000 times, and have reached a level of statistical significance that in scientific circles would count as a formal discovery.

But the group understands that what are known as “systematic errors” could easily make an erroneous result look like a breaking of the ultimate speed limit, and that has motivated them to publish their measurements.

“My dream would be that another, independent experiment finds the same thing – then I would be relieved,” Dr Ereditato said.

But for now, he explained, “we are not claiming things, we want just to be helped by the community in understanding our crazy result – because it is crazy”.

“And of course the consequences can be very serious.”

via BBC News – Speed-of-light experiments give baffling result at Cern.


7 comments on “BBC News – Speed-of-light experiments give baffling result at Cern


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  6. Richard Dexter Sauerheber
    October 6, 2011

    Light travels a whopping 30 cm in 1 nanosecond. The suggestion that neutrinos ‘exceeded the velocity of light by 1 nanosecond’ thus claims the race at CERN would be won by neutrinos by a massive 30 cm if the two were run at the same time in the same race.
    The short time required by light to travel 1 mm, the admitted precision error in the known distance of the race, is a mere 3 trillionths of a second.
    During daylight hours, as the earth speeds around the sun in an orbit, Eastern locations on earth race in front of Western locations, while at night locations to the West lead geographic locations that are to the East. Light does not participate in such motions as do physical matter, and instead travels a straight path from a source that must be intercepted later by a moving sensor at the position of intersection. The calculation of the actual time reqwuired by a light photon to traverse from the CERN to OPERA is complex and depends on the time of day among other factors. These considerations were not made in the published work.
    A better experiment would be to run the neutrinos and a light beam in concert at the same time to see who actually wins the race.
    Richard Sauerheber, Ph.D.


  7. Richard Dexter Sauerheber
    October 6, 2011

    Einstein wrote in 1905 that light speed (in the propagation direction) is fixed at c (from Maxwell), BUT the relative velocity between a beam front and a moving detector is either c – v or c + v when a detector moves away from, or toward, the light respectively. Since the earth orbits at 65,000 miles per hour around the sun, it is necessary to apply this correction in any experiment using a one way direction of travel. The time required for a light photon to travel the CERN tube during the day when the OPERA detector speeds away from the light is longer than the time required by a light photon to travel through the tube at night when the detector would be traveling in the direction opposite that of the photon. Albert Michelson performed his speed of light measurement at Mt.Baldy with a round-trip measurement that avoided this problem.
    Light does not pick up extra forward speed from a forward moving source, but matter with mass does so. The formula for the exact speed of light is known from the Calculus performed by Maxwell but can only be assigned a numeric value that is limited by the precision of instruments that measure the properties of the medium in which light propagates. Light speed is incredibly fast only because light has no mass–it is an EM field. Objects with mass cannot attain the speed of light. Although Einstein was wrong on many counts with aspects of special relativity (i.e. ‘time dilation’) the one thing he was correct about was that light speed cannot be exceeded by objects that have mass.
    Richard Sauerheber, Ph.D.


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