Breaking the Cosmic Speed Limit

By Dave Armstrong - 25 Sep 2011 20:0:0 GMT
Breaking the Cosmic Speed Limit

CERN and the LNGS laboratory in Gran Sasso, Italy, has announced news of Einsteinian importance. The old man's well-loved theory has been between a rock and a hard place recently and relativity could now be less of a fact than we thought. While the speed of light is accurately measured at 299,792,458 metres per sec (700 million mph) neutrinos have just been policed at an unexpected higher rate over a 450 mile test.

While the rate is a mere 60 nanoseconds faster, the incredible fact is that the speed difference is actually 12,000 mph! The Standard Model (the current basic law of physics) is threatened, even though the speed did seem to be only very slightly exceeded.

However, the sanity of scientists may not be threatened at all. There are all kinds of reasons why the result of 15,000 measurements can have been found so lacking in respect to the laws.

No-one so far has a single explanation, but it's likely that the usual experimental faults will be proposed, if not exposed, by several commentators. The scientists involved actively seek any explanation, in a true scientific sense (though who knows what personality problems could be involved in some relationships? As a demonstration, the prominent University of Surrey physicist, Jim Al-Khalili, quotes, "If the CERN experiment proves to be correct and neutrinos have broken the speed of light, I will eat my boxer shorts live on TV". Whether any Channel will ever have him on TV again is open to conjecture.

Leaving this aside, the excitement lies in the possibility that a new set of laws may need to be written. New particles will be proposed and explanations as to why neutrinos travel faster than photons will seem plausible. The String Theory, proposing many dimensions, could benefit from this research as the neutrinos appear to have "jumped" using some dimension we have yet to investigate.

Most important of all, the Higgs boson or the tachyon (another hypothetical particle that nobody has found) could be reinvented or finally discarded, thus tying in physics that so far has failed to gel in the Standard Model. The conclusions that fellow scientists (apart from Jim Al-Khalili) ruminate on will be of great interest to all of us. Perhaps the space images market and the "new" Dinosaur craze will be superceded by a craze for faster particles among popular science fans.

Top Image Credit: Conceptual image displaying neutrinos © VHVisions

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