Scepticism over faster-than-light particle

2011-10-07 07:25

Geneva - The heads of three major physics labs said they're sceptical a subatomic particle travelled faster than the speed of light.

The three lab directors spoke two weeks after European scientists said they clocked a neutrino going faster than the 299 792.458km/s - thought to be nature's speed limit under Einstein's 1905 special theory of relativity.

The European Organisation for Nuclear Research, or Cern, on the Swiss-French border, provided the particle accelerator that sent neutrinos on their 730km trip underground from Geneva to Italy.

There's a good chance the research won't hold up, said Rolf Heuer of Cern, Pier Oddone of Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, or Fermilab, in the US, and Atsuto Suzuki of High Energy Accelerator Research Organisation, or KEK, in Japan.

"I'm a complete sceptic," Oddone said.


Suzuki said he also is "expecting" it to turn out to be untrue, while Heuer agreed "one has to be very, very sceptical" until someone else can confirm the findings.

Cern reported that a neutrino beam fired from a particle accelerator near Geneva to a lab in Italy travelled 60 nanoseconds faster than the speed of light. The margin of error was 10 nanoseconds, each of which is equal to one-billionth of a second.

France's National Institute for Nuclear and Particle Physics Research collaborated with Italy's Gran Sasso National Laboratory on the neutrino experiment at Cern.

The lab directors said there were four possibilities for trying to do that in the US, Japan, Italy and the world's biggest physics lab on the Swiss-French border.

Oddone said Fermilab hoped to accomplish it by next May.

If the work can be replicated, they said, scientists would have to fundamentally alter their explanations of how the universe operates.

That's because much of our understanding is based on Einstein's theory that energy equals mass times the speed of light squared. Already, they agreed, the world seems to be moving beyond it in ways once thought unimaginable.

"Well, who tells you we are only living in three space dimensions? Maybe our imagination is not good enough," said Heuer. "If we find an extra dimension, or a number of extra dimensions, that could bring us much further beyond Einstein.

Oddone said that "in some sense we have moved already beyond Einstein" in our understanding of the universe.

"It's still Einstein's dream of getting to a unified picture of nature," Oddone said. "We really don't know what's out there. And that's why it's so exciting."

  • Coconut - 2011-10-07 08:20

    I'm a complete skeptic too. Faster than light just seems a little bit too weird to me.

      droplet - 2011-10-07 08:46

      why? because you read it in a book that some guy worked out that the speed of light is the fastest possible speed?

      TastelessJoke - 2011-10-07 09:28

      No, because extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.

      Hope-101 - 2011-10-07 09:53

      Well droplet, doesn't your statement apply to all/many statements made by scientists and please note, I do not say scientists are wrong with everything they "sell" the world over but many people around us just very naively beliefs everything scientists tell us as the truth, but these truths are constantly proven wrong by scientists themselves. I think it is more a matter of what we know at the moment and we have no idea exactly which rules will change tomorrow due to new knowledge obtained tomorrow. Just my 2c, and yes, I am a sceptic.

      Darwinian - 2011-10-07 10:46

      At some stage the speed of sound were also impenetrable ...

      truffes - 2011-10-07 12:19

      Extraordinary claims require verifiable evidence. All claims do actually. An observer may regards a phenomenon as extraordinary, based on the semantic cage s/he inhabits. However the basic tenet of scientific endeavor is not compliance with anyone's expectations, but rather openness to public scrutiny and verification.

  • truffes - 2011-10-07 08:42

    In 2007 MINOS reported superluminal neutrinos at 1.8 sigma. i.e. within a 92.8% confidence interval. See .

  • CapeTownJunk - 2011-10-07 08:54

    Either way, science progresses. At very least, we'll eventually understand why they got those anomalous faster-than-light results. And if it turns out the measurements were accurate, it's bound to revolutionise physics. Science. It works.

      Martin du Plessis - 2011-10-07 10:43

      The results came from someone turning on the can-opener at the wrong times.

  • Andrew - 2011-10-07 08:57

    It's OK - if we get enough estate agents on facebook to agree with the theory, then it will become "established scientific truth"

  • Frustrated - 2011-10-07 10:00

    There were many who ridiculed the idea of the earth being spherical ....where are they now???

      CapeTownJunk - 2011-10-07 11:49

      They're dead. Part of humanity's past. Meanwhile, back in the present, your attempt at building a strawman argument does not go unnoticed.

      truffes - 2011-10-07 12:12

      "There is no such thing as quasicrystals, only quasi-scientists." That was Linus Pauling. He's dead too now. We'll all be dead some day.

  • Frustrated - 2011-10-07 10:10

    Remember that Einstein was allways the first to question his own theories, because he considdered them exactly that....theories. He never proclaimed them to be the ultimate truth..

  • Olavin - 2011-10-07 10:39

    I wish my internet ran at those speeds.

      Mad Hatter - 2011-10-07 15:12

      hahahaha.....hahah..... go telkom

  • whois - 2011-10-07 10:42

    I think it's a problem with perception and theoretical physics. All the variables are based on the fastest measurable speed, which is light. Our assumption is that 'if it can't be seen, it isn't there'? I believe that our perceptions of the nature of mass and energy will have to be re-evaluated when we're advanced enough to move beyond the one spectrum limitation.

  • Cybermatix - 2011-10-07 11:17

    It doesn't need to be replicated. If "most" scientists "believe" it to be true, it will be true. If "most" don't, it will be false. This is why Climate Change is "true", because "most" scientists believe it to be so. Remember that 200 years ago "most" scientists believed that heavier than air powered flight was not possible, and less than 100 years ago "most" scientists believed that a rocket wouldn't work in space, because there was no air to "push" against. Oh but we know so much more today than 100 years ago. No we don't.

      Horst - 2011-10-07 11:34

      Nonsense, science is not a belief systems.

      CapeTownJunk - 2011-10-07 11:47

      "Why" all the "scare" "quotes", "Cybermatix"?

      truffes - 2011-10-07 12:03

      Very good point, Cybermatrix. Scientific truths, all truths actually, are based on consensus. They are constituency-dependent rhetorical constructs. Needless to say, some truths are more comvincing than others, depending on convenience, fear, pride, personal or collective taste and even integrity. Indeed we don't know more today than 100 or 2000 years ago. The realm of our perceptions has just changed, we lost Pan and got spectrometers instead.

      Hoofbite - 2011-10-07 14:28

      @truffes. "Scientific truths, ...., are based on consensus". Simply put, this is false. Scientific truths are not based on consensus. Scientific truths are based on evidence. Evidence which is generated via experimentation and/or observation and, if certain requirements are met, would be the same regardless of whom it is conducted by. Hence, if there is consensus in science, it is not due to a failing or a weakness in the manner in which it is conducted (e.g. simply based on people's opinions as you say) but, in fact, due to its fastidious nature. The beauty of the scientific method is that you in no way does it dictate that you need to have a presupposed position. You do not have to agree with anybody else's findings; you can test them for yourself if only you have the intellectual honesty to do so. If your conclusions do not agree with the current understanding then the manner in which you arrived at your conclusions and the conclusions themselves will be evaluated (i.e. peer review). This simple idea of being able to verify findings for yourself, in a scientific manner, is incredibly powerful. I recommend you try it.

      truffes - 2011-10-07 14:32

      Hoofbite, any evidence has to be interpreted. Upon interpretation it may be found either convincing or irrelevant by different observers. I suggest that you read my previous post above, concerning "extraordinary" claims.

      Hoofbite - 2011-10-07 15:19

      Truffes, I agree with you that the interpretation of evidence may lead to individuals attaching an varying degree of importance to such said evidence. However, interpretation needs to be done in context. Without context the manner in which evidence is interpreted is meaningless. I'm surprised at your agreement with Cybermatrix's point (that the experiment doesn't need to be replicated, if that in fact is the point you are referring to).

      Hope-101 - 2011-10-07 15:38

      So Hoofbite, where does the word "theory" fit into this picture ?

  • anadish - 2011-10-07 14:29

    They really are ignorant of the inertial lock space is in everywhere. It's no surprise that Neutrinos can travel faster than expected.

  • Zion - 2011-10-08 09:40

    If we wish to believe then we are ripe for the picking. Remember the forum relating to aliens and above all: White powder Gold or Gold of the Gods. Supposedly having the powers of levitation and spirituality and a cure for all mankind's ills. So tantalising and so attractive to solve the problems of mother earth and her bastard liars. That was the hoax of this century. Find it on the Internet then attempts are made to sell it to the searcher. A tit-bit of knowledge is let slip in that a claim is made the stuff is made from Volcanic Ash and yes sir, only from a particular volcano. The wave of recent UFO and alien sightings are, too, the greatest hoax mankind has been subjected to. Our problem with Albert Einstein, relativity and the speed of light is based on our own ignorance on the subject.Einstein's relativity is no longer a theory or a hypothesis because the older it gets the more proof rises to the surface. People attempt to debunk it because it is easier to take on an ostrich profile when faced by info not understood. Mankind will always remain suckers. The problem with UFO's is hoaxes can be made almost watertight and difficult to prove otherwise by the casual observer.

  • Tamra - 2011-10-13 08:44

    He tried to help lots of people and causes.

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