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Faster-than-light neutrinos: a timeline

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.


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2011 has been a busy year for particle physicists. They’ve found a new particle, closed in on the elusive Higgs boson, and witnessed some neutrinos acting pretty strangely, amongst other things. I’m talking, of course, about the faster than light neutrinos detected by the Opera experiment in Italy. They dominated the science headlines for a few days at the end of September and have been popping up every now and then since as scientists try to grapple with the idea that Einstein’s theory of special relativity may not be as watertight as they would like to think.

In order to make sense of the finding, I collected together lots of the coverage and papers concerning the result and had a go with interactive timeline making tool dipity.com. Have a look at the timeline below. You can zoom in on particular weeks and days, to see the detail of who published what and when, or you can zoom out for a broader overview of how the story unfolded. This is very much a work in progress and I plan to add to it as and when new events occur. If there’s something I haven’t included that you think should be on there please let me know in the comments.

If you need a refresher on how Opera experiment found this result, have a watch of the video by Minute Physics below, which provides a nice and simple explanation.

All that remains for me to say is happy new year to those already in 2012, and I’ll see the rest of you on the other side.

Kelly Oakes About the Author: Kelly Oakes has a master's in science communication and a physics degree, both from Imperial College London. Now she spends her days writing about science. Follow on Twitter @kahoakes.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.





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  1. 1. sgtpepper68 3:41 pm 12/31/2011

    This reminds me of a limerick
    anon could be from the jabberwock or snark
    There once was a man from Whight
    Who could travel faster than light
    He left one day, in a relative way
    and returned on the previous night.

    Pepper

    Link to this
  2. 2. jtdwyer 6:27 pm 12/31/2011

    The fundamental problem with these experiments is that no matter how accurately they might measure the relative emission and detection times of detected neutrinos, the actual path and distance traversed by detected neutrinos cannot be definitively or precisely determined. As a result, any speed assessment is at best an estimate and is not definitive evidence of faster than light neutrino propagation.

    While the experiments presume a specific linear distance between GPS coordinates of CERN and Gran Sasso, as determined by standard geodesy routines, there is ample reason to expect that the undetected actual path traversed by neutrinos is subject to varying relativistic effects that have not been accounted for. Please see: Wolfgang Kundt, (2011). “Speed of the CERN Neutrinos released on 22.9.2011 – Was stated superluminality due to neglecting General Relativity?”,
    http://arxiv.org/abs/1111.3888v1

    The estimated discrepancy of 61 ns between the calculated speed of light in a vacuum over the estimated 731,278+/-0.2 meters and the now reasonably measured neutrino ‘time-of-flight’ is equivalent to a distance discrepancy of 18 meters. If, for any reason, the distance traversed by neutrinos was overestimated by about 18 meters then the detected neutrinos DID NOT exceed the speed of light.

    IMO, If we were to set up a massive neutrino detector facility on the moon (accounting for a much larger dispersion angle) perhaps we could obtain reliably conclusive timing results for detected neutrinos, since the precise distance to the moon can be experimentally confirmed through laser reflection. In that case, the path taken by neutrinos would be more likely the same as photons over the greater linear distance which would be subject to relatively less gravitational variation.

    Link to this
  3. 3. jtdwyer 6:46 pm 12/31/2011

    Kelly Oakes:
    FYI – so far I’ve not been able to access your timeline on dipity.com. Using the Google Chrome browser I’ve eventually received only a message indicating ‘A remote server error has occurred…’ or “The service is not available. Please try again later.” Using the Microsoft Internet Explorer browser I receive nothing but an empty box. Maybe the server is down for the holiday and will return next year…

    Link to this
  4. 4. A year of peril….And a year of promise | Contrary Brin 11:58 pm 12/31/2011

    [...] Faster than light neutrinos?  Click on the [...]

    Link to this
  5. 5. Kelly Oakes in reply to Kelly Oakes 6:08 am 01/1/2012

    jtdwyer: Thanks for letting me know – it was working immediately after I posted but doesn’t seem to be showing up for me either now. The Dipity website it down at the moment. I’ll contact someone there and see what is going on. Perhaps they are having a new year’s break!

    Link to this
  6. 6. azzam71 4:06 pm 01/1/2012

    The story began with me in 1997, when I did my graduation research which was concerning to unifying between quantum theory (Copenhagen School) and relativity theory of Einstein in concepts, principles and laws. According my modified special relativity, I predicted it possible measuring the speed of any particle or electromagnetic wave to be greater than the speed of light in vacuum. But at that time my Doctors told me there is something wrong in you research. Now OPERA, ICARUS and SN1987a introducing good proof that I was moving in the right side after 15 years. my paper is existed in http://vixra.org/pdf/1112.0071v1.pdf

    Link to this
  7. 7. kapilmidha 8:35 am 01/2/2012

    Kicked on its but
    in the collidron
    that subatom fled
    trying to escape
    that continuous spank
    it sped

    Fast! It moved so fast
    burning its subatomic fuel
    forgetting alas!
    this untouchable rule

    None can go faster than light
    no particle no energy no flight
    time travel is impossible
    and speed of light unsurpassable.

    But when this subatom fled
    scared and beaten, it sped till it bled
    forgetting this rule, the speed of light it crossed
    the physicists are now lost ,and astronomers foxed.

    Link to this
  8. 8. Ashbert 10:27 am 01/7/2012

    OPERA Experiment and its flawed GPS Measurements cause neutrinos to appear superluminal. Relativistic Time is where flaw is, since GPS adjusts time according to relativity’s equations. However, being confused about time has always been a tradition amongst physicists; we show below how physicists never even understood the nature of time in classical physics!
    What fantastic claim be shown by doing an OPERA-like experiment to measure speed of light instead of neutrinos? It can be shown that not only do neutrinos travel faster than light, but light travels faster than itself too! Of course light cannot travel faster than itself (and you don’t have to be an Einstein to realize that)!
    Speed = Distance / Time. If measured this way the neutrinos will not be faster than light, provided Distance and Time can be correctly measured. But OPERA used the latest technology – GPS, which adjusts time according to relativity’s equations. So in OPERA’s physics, Speed = (GPS Measured Distance) / (GPS Measured Time). You can get neutrinos back under light speed if you can eliminate GPS from the measurements. Relativity-worshipping physicists can (and probably will) escape the faster-than-light neutrinos dilemma by dodging GPS and thus dodging relativistic time equations. So relativity-worshippers may well have the last laugh. But look at the irony – they have to dump relativity’s time adjustments to fix the neutrino issue and save relativity’s light postulate!
    We have been saying since 2005 in our paper at physicsnext.org that, while different observes will measure different times in many cases, Einstein time-dilation equations are wrong, and we give the correct equations. Our paper at physicsnext.org has a COUNTER-EXAMPLE exists that PROVES that (though Einstein’s postulates are correct), Einstein’s claim of having derived the Lorentz transformations is wrong; yes a COUNTER-EXAMPLE — and at least one Nobel prize winner takes this realization seriously.
    Forget Einstein’s equations about time dilation, even Einstein’s claim about time itself being an independent physical quantity (his equations require this) is wrong. Our paper at physicsnext.org also shows how to build a clock that will not undergo any time dilation at all.
    Physicists are wrong even about what “classical physics” (i.e.pre-Einstein physics) said about time. Physics books widely state that in classical physics time was “absolute ” by which they mean that is was an independent quantity that “flows” at a constant pace. No equation of classical physics implies any such thing about time, and if physics is equations then these writers failed to even understand Newton’s laws and equations, and what these equations imply about time. (They went for some Newton quotation from here and there, but those quotes are not physics, they are just secondary opinion with no physics to back it up. You can either go after the superfluous OR you can try to understand physics and what it implies; physics writers have unanimously chosen the former when it comes to Newtonian Physics and Time). Einstein’s physics and Einstein’s equations were the first time that physics was required incorporate the claim that time “flows” as an actual independent physical quantity; this claim about time we consider to be highly questionable philosophically, and this was a major motivation in our finding alternative equations that are consistent with Einstein’s two postulates.
    Below paragraph, taken unedited from p.7 of our paper at physicsnext.org, gives the actual situation about classical and relativistic time.
    While doing away with the concept of “absolute time,” relativity presented a new thesis of “relative time flow” between inertial frames. We do not take the absolute time of Newtonian physics to have meant that time itself “flows” as an independent physical quantity — it only meant that the equations worked in such a way that all observers measured the same time for the same event. We could attempt to make a similar statement about observers in different frames and relativity’s relative time — however, in relativity time is an independent physical quantity and we have actual time dilation.

    Link to this
  9. 9. GeoffBuZZnik 11:44 am 01/7/2012

    Just wondering, what if Neutrinos still travelled at light speed, but space between two measured points was folded in such a way as to make it seem that they travelled faster than light? See…
    http://connectedblackholes.blogspot.com/2011/12/are-black-holes-connected-possible-big.html?spref=fb

    Link to this
  10. 10. lou1939 10:27 pm 01/19/2012

    From what I’v read and heard about the experiment that measures neutrinos traveling faster than light, the path of the neutrinos passes through the crust of the earth. If this is true then the atoms in the solid material of the earth are packed together tightly. I know that neutrinos are so small that they pass through the space witin the atoms with very little interaction. What I’m asking is if the space or the void within the atom could have a different quality or energy from the space out there that light has traditionally been measured at. Since light or electromagnetic radiation can’t travel through solid material very far whithout interating or being absorbed, therefore can’t be measured, is it possible that the speed of light, or Einstein’s speed limit be different through the space within the atom.

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  11. 11. B.T.See 12:43 pm 02/5/2012

    Observed Speed is not equal to Actual Speed

    i wish to point out here, something that every physicist know but may not notice that Observed Speed is not same with Actual Speed, make a simple example from general relativity, a spacecraft was attracted and absorbed by a black hole, then it travel at a speed below light’s speed in the worm hole and came out as a wreckage (in particles form)from the connected white hole; now, its wreckage may located at 100 light-years away from its origin, if the process take 10 minutes, then the Observed Speed is 100 light-years (in km)/10 minutes (in seconds),the Observed Speed should obviously far more faster than light’s speed, however, in that whole process, the spacecraft (and its wreckage) never travel faster than the light’s speed. It is its Actual Speed.

    Link to this

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