The news is packed today with reports about the CERN measurements which apparently show that some neutrinos have travelled at faster than the speed of light. Since the conclusions are crucially dependent upon a time difference of 60 nanoseconds in a total travel time of 2.43 milliseconds the conclusion may well be found to be in error.
But I hope not.
Wired News: If it’s true, it will mark the biggest discovery in physics in the past half-century: Elusive, nearly massless subatomic particles called neutrinos appear to travel just faster than light, a team of physicists in Europe reports. If so, the observation would wreck Einstein’s theory of special relativity, which demands that nothing can travel faster than light. ….
Over three years, OPERA researchers timed the roughly 16,000 neutrinos that started at CERN and registered a hit in the detector. They found that, on average, the neutrinos made the 730-kilometer, 2.43-millisecond trip roughly 60 nanoseconds faster than expected if they were traveling at light speed. “It’s a straightforward time-of-flight measurement,” says Antonio Ereditato, a physicist at the University of Bern and spokesperson for the 160-member OPERA collaboration. “We measure the distance and we measure the time, and we take the ratio to get the velocity, just as you learned to do in high school.” Ereditato says the uncertainty in the measurement is 10 nanoseconds. However, even Ereditato says it’s way too early to declare relativity wrong. “I would never say that,” he says. Rather, OPERA researchers are simply presenting a curious result that they cannot explain and asking the community to scrutinize it. “We are forced to say something,” he says. “We could not sweep it under the carpet because that would be dishonest.” The results will be presented at a seminar tomorrow at CERN.
The concept of light having a maximum speed is acceptable but that nothing can exceed this speed is somehow depressing and lacks elegance and it kills hope. It is even more confining and depressing if the universe is expanding. It “settles” science when science needs to be unsettled.
For the sake of wonder and discovery and challenge I hope that the measurements are correct and that some part of Einsteinian physics is turned on its head and that the dream of FTL travel remains alive.
“Make it so” – Star Trek
The Guardian: Faster than light particles found, claim scientists
Wall Street Journal: Roll over Einstein: Law of physics challenged