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CERN Explains The Big Fuss Over 'Neutrino' Findings

A handout photo of the OPERA detector at the LNGS (Gran Sasso National Laboratory) near L'Aquila, where CERN's particle research took place.
A handout photo of the OPERA detector at the LNGS (Gran Sasso National Laboratory) near L'Aquila, where CERN's particle research took place.
James Gillies, spokesman for the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN), speaks with RFE/RL correspondent Ron Synovitz about an experiment that has captured the attention of the world. If independently verified, the measurement of subatomic "neutrino" particles traveling faster than the speed of light would prove that one of the foundations of modern physics, Albert Einstein's Theory of General Relativity, was wrong.

RFE/RL: You've said that even the scientists collaborating on this research at the European Organization for Nuclear Research have found it hard to believe the results of their observations. Why is that?

Gillies: This kind of thing happens quite often in science. An experiment will measure something that looks unusual and the first thing you do there is say 'We don't really believe this.' Then you try to understand it in terms of your experimental apparatus, your analysis, your techniques and so on and so forth. Most of the time you do that and you find some rather mundane explanation and [the unexpected observation] goes away. But occasionally, you don't. That's what has happened in this case. The collaboration that has analyzed this data has tried very, very hard to understand it in terms of their apparatus and it hasn't gone away. So the next step is to put it up for scrutiny by the broader particle physics community, and that is actually what is happening right now.

RFE/RL: What if these findings are confirmed -- if other scientists independently verify that neutrino particles do travel faster than the speed of light. What impact would that have upon the field of physics?

Gillies: Relativity has withstood the test of time for nearly a century, and it's not because people haven't been testing it. People have. People have been measuring, doing experiments and making observations about relativity for a very long time -- and so far, nothing has shown that anything breaks this cosmic speed limit. So this would actually be at odds with quite a lot of what has gone before. That doesn't mean it is wrong. But there is a very strong feeling in the community that there must be a different explanation out there.

RFE/RL: In terms of scientific theory, can you explain why the experiment carried out by the scientists at CERN is so revolutionary to the field of physics?

Gillies: One of the big dilemmas arising from 20th-century physics is that so much of modern physics is based on two pillars that came up in the early part of the last century. One of them is relativity and the other is quantum mechanics. Relativity is a theory of gravity. There is no quantum theory of gravity.

So trying to reconcile these two things is one of the really [most important goals], if not the most important goal, for modern physics. If you start to find things like this, then maybe that would give you a way to reconcile the two basic pillars of modern physics. But first of all, we need to make sure whether this [observation] is real or not.

RFE/RL: Can you explain more about how the CERN experiments were conducted?

Gillies: Einstein's Theory of General Relativity says there is a cosmic speed limit and that is the speed of light -- [that] nothing can go faster than that. What this measurement [shows] is a measurement of the time it takes for a beam of neutrinos to fly from CERN -- 730 kilometers through the Earth -- to a particle detector underground at a place called Gran Sasso in Italy. It's about 732 kilometers away and the time of flight is about 2.4 [milli]seconds to do that. And what they appear to be measuring is that the neutrinos are arriving early. Only very slightly early -- it's a 20 part per million effect, but early nevertheless.

So if that is the case, then it really is an astonishing almost revolutionary result for physics -- which I think is exactly why we need to be extraordinarily cautious before we start jumping up and down and saying Einstein was wrong. That is what we are doing now. We are trying to really get to grips with this result, looking for independent measurements before we can make any definitive statements about what it really means.

RFE/RL: You've mentioned underground detectors being used in this experiment. Is the beam of neutrinos passing through any kind of tunnel system or other underground infrastructure that allows it to behave like a beam of light?

Gillies: It's not a beam of light. It's fundamental particles called neutrinos. These are tiny little particles that are very, very important in the way that the universe behaves because they are so ubiquitous. They are everywhere. They flood the universe. They are very tiny. They are very hard to detect. They interact very weakly. I mean, we are constantly bathed in a flux of neutrinos coming from space -- a large number from the sun -- most of which just go straight through the earth without interacting.

So we want to understand those particles and that's what these experiments are all about. Because they can go through the earth without interacting, it's quite easy for labs like Fermilab and CERN to generate beams of them and send them down into the earth. That's what we do. They go down through the earth and then they reemerge in these detectors, in our case, 732 kilometers away. So they're not in a tunnel. They actually are literally passing through the earth.

RFE/RL: In 2007, there were similar findings about neutrinos traveling faster than the speed of light discovered by researchers at the Chicago-based Fermilab. How is this new research different?

Gillies: That's a very interesting result too. Fermilab has a very similar experiment. They send a beam northwards to an underground detector about the same distance away. They did the same thing. They measured the time and they also saw that the neutrino seemed to be arriving slightly early. But their precision wasn't as high as this [CERN] experiment so they weren't able to make a strong statement on it. But what they are doing now is preparing to upgrade their equipment so they can make a more precise measurement of it. And we are all very much looking forward to seeing that."

RFE/RL: How long do you think it will be before independent follow up research can either verify or disprove that neturinos can travel faster than the speed of light?

Gillies: I would suspect that it is at least months and probably years. We send a lot of neutrinos through the earth, but because they interact very weakly you have to wait a long time. They interact weakly, but if you send a lot of them you will see some interaction. So I know that our experiments have been collecting data for three years. So this is based on three years worth of data collection. So I think it is going to be a while before we see any independent refutation or confirmation of this result.
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by: Akshay M. Sarma from: Guwahati, Assam, India
September 24, 2011 16:37
How do CERN know they are measuring the same neutrino at both ends?
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by: Vyshaq from: india
September 24, 2011 18:49
yes, i was hovering over the same thought.It could some strong interaction(force) between neutrinos that may be propagating faster than light.Just an random thought...:)
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by: AF from: Denmark
September 25, 2011 13:36
I think they don't. They know when they begin emitting the beam in Switzerland and they know when a significant spike above background noise is detected in Italy.
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by: Rudi B. Stranden from: Kristiansand, Norway
September 29, 2011 00:09
Why such a big fuzz? http://www.universetoday.com/33752/device-makes-radio-waves-travel-faster-than-light/
So this is old news.
However finding out how neutrino works is really interesting work anyway.

"If you take a laser and shine it on the moon and swing it rather gently, for example, the spot on the moon travels faster than the speed of light. If an effect can do that, it makes you wonder if you can do things with light to get the equivalent of a sonic boom."
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by: Rob from: Australia
September 29, 2011 12:57
It's not old news because, as quoted on the article you linked above, "However no physical quantity of charge travels faster than light speed." It's just the wave effect that's faster.

by: frank ingle from: palo alto ca
September 24, 2011 16:39
The supernova SN1987a observed both light and neurtrino arrival time, which provides a much more sensitive measure of relative velocities of light and neutrinos because of the vastly greater distance. The distance from the supernova was 1.7E21 meters, so the new CERN result showing delay of 60 ns would translate proportionally to an arrival time difference of 4.4 years. The observed light arrival time in SN1987a was only a few days different from the neutrinos, some of which was thought to be the time needed for light to diffuse out of the collapsing core. Thus, the present CERN 60 ns observed delay is a much less capable measurement than the SN1987a supernova data.
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by: Calin from: Santa Cruz
September 24, 2011 20:08
Not necessarily. Consider that the statement that "neutrinos do not interact/ interact only weakly." Is true only if such particles are taken a few at a time as in a tokamak.

Considering their proclivity for participation in every form of matter and energy one might imagine that the cumulative energetic and inter-particle "drag" on neutrinos crossing a small number of high energy/low density plasma systems between here and a star would be less than that of passing through even a small amount of earth if the relative total energetic differential of CERN and the supernova were taken into consideration to appropriately "scale" the relative delays.

Neutrinos are sort of reality's "white pixel" Ubiquitous, innocuous but powerful in large numbers.
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by: Saurabh Wadhwa from: Dubai, UAE
September 25, 2011 00:38
"Approximately three hours before the visible light from SN 1987A reached the Earth, a burst of neutrinos was observed at three separate neutrino observatories. This is likely due to neutrino emission (which occurs simultaneously with core collapse) preceding the emission of visible light (which occurs only after the shock wave reaches the stellar surface)." - Wikipedia.

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by: lyesmith
September 25, 2011 08:50
Yes but they were not the same type (heavy) of neutrinos.
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by: Alex from: Raleigh
September 26, 2011 02:54
I actually do some research with neutrinos, specifically supernovae and there is significant reaction with both the matter in the supernova and the other created neutrinoes. As well the energy scales are quite different, and it has been suggested that the faster than light travel might be a function of the particle energy.

by: bedi from: roorkee
September 24, 2011 16:47
whether any type of tunnel system is used through which the neutrino travel or not?
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by: abhijeet from: chidambaram
September 24, 2011 17:54
I might be worng and if I am pls inform me on my email attis99@yahoo.com. Neutrinos can travel through earth and universe without much interaction so they were send without help of any tunnel systerm i.e directly through earth.
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by: Shaji from: Kochi, India
September 25, 2011 08:39
No tunnel is needed for neutrinos. They can easily pass through the Earth.

by: vledder veen from: Holland
September 24, 2011 16:58
I'm not a scientist so this may be a dumb comment. If the neutrino starts it's trip at time A and arrives at time B how do the measure the start and arrival times at both locations. How can they be sure the timekeeping in sync.
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by: Panagiotis Atmatzidis from: Czech Republic
September 24, 2011 19:44
They very expensive equipment. We're talking about multi-million dollars equipment just to measure these kind of things. So, they base their results in computer (software called ROOT and specific hardware).

After the experiment they called for a software bit-to-bit review in order to make sure the measurements were correctly displayed. The code review showed no substantial errors.
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by: Luis Diego Hernández from: El Salvador
September 24, 2011 23:34
@ Jay:

Neutrinos*

That's a question that came to mind too. But it is known that neutrinos are constantly passing directly through Earth, and because they interact very weakly, are very hard to detect. They just send a large beam of neutrinos, so when they detect some, they'll be the ones they sent.

That is, however, assuming there is no other source sending large beams of neutrinos through Earth.
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by: sayan from: india
September 25, 2011 02:53
vledder veen from holland.....ur doubt is a very resonable one. CERN are using atomic clocks whcih needless to say are not like our every day like clocks...and CERN uses satellite based GPS system to synchronise these clocks at both the ends.However ther is always a certain amoutn of innacuracy defined for this synchronisation....but that is also considered in the experimental error calculation. moreover the clocks were synchronised by one agency and then cross checked by another agency independently.
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by: Yannick Hein from: Germany
September 25, 2011 09:33
They have two atomic clock which are synchronized by a GPS satellite which both locations can see. They then just smapled how many protons the beam which created the neutrinos contained, and when exactly it passed. On the end, they sampled how many neutrinos per time (e. g. 120 Neutrinos per 150ns, the rate is much higher than the amount of neutrinos coming from other sources) passed the detector, and when exactly that was measured. Then, they compared both measured curves to find out at which delay the amount of neutrinos matches best the amount of protons. This match is quite satisfying if you look at the paper. It is just 60ns too early...
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by: Mangesh from: India
September 26, 2011 13:51
They use GPS for synchronising? But if they're measuring neutrinos faster than light, using light speed for synchronising will be slow and less effective, won't it?

by: Jay from: United Kingdom
September 24, 2011 17:25
How do you know if it the same Neutrons that you have been detecting at the other end and not Neutrons coming from another source? Like you said before, Neutrons are constantly passing through the earth.
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by: Alex
September 24, 2011 19:03
It requires an extremely good background in mathematics, statistics & physics. These questions are very complicated but these experiments can be done and are the forefront for all our technological advances.

The times are synchronized using the GPS system which use extremely precise atomic clocks. There are alot of factors to consider, some of which introduce negligible and non negligible uncertainties, such as

Tidal effects from moon (time ticks different when an object is exposed to different gravitational fields), Variations of earths density, GPS gravitational variations, Tidal expansion due to two points. There are so many, the uncertainty propagation calculation is extremely difficult

The neutrinos can be differentiated from the cosmic background by the energy that they carry. How can they tell which ones to match up (they can't), but the distances and times are analyzed statistically.

If you fire a spread of bullets and know how long you've held the trigger for, one could find a mean velocity and uncertainty in it by knowing the distance to target and times of impact. (Even though realistically one bullet shouldn't pass another) we can still determine an average time and how uncertain we are for that time.

When all of these things are considered, we find out that the neutrinos have traveled faster than light (assuming that everything is taken into account) and with a 6 sigma result. Usually 3.3 or 4 sigma is an identifier for outliers

Some of the best physicists are working on the calculations, from may countries, but its still too early to get excited.
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by: Valvar from: Sweden
September 24, 2011 19:20
As stated in the article, they send lots of them so that interaction can be measured. I find it likely that they at the location for arrival only measure for "large bunches" of neutrons, which don't occur naturally.

by: Frank Philpot from: Hampshire England
September 24, 2011 17:31
Now 20 years since Cern started the world wide web giving instant communication between every one. However this is not conversation. For that the recipient has to be prepared to listen not just to talk,
For 15 years I have been trying to alert Cern to the true nature of the Universe. Still no reply no one tries to understand and the same old nonsense is deemed to be all that can be known.

Consider If the basis of relativity the distance 's' in four dimensional space, free from massive objects, between two events is s^2=(ct)^2-x^2-y^2-z^2 as Einstein said, then we are moving at the speed of light in the fourth dimension of space.

If this simple produce 'c' the speed of light and 't' the time which is simply a count of the number of seconds that have elapsed is too much for you and Einstein and all scientists to grasp, how then can you understand the Universe which flows from this understanding,

You will say in your blinked way , "No object can go at the speed of light." But you are wrong. Your statement only applies to relative velocity in three dimensional space. In the fourth dimension there is only one speed which is the speed of light.

I believe that there is little use talking to Cern because there is no one there with a mind of his own who can follow an argument. OK so prove me wrong and reply in a meaningful way, like invite me to come to CERN and tell you how the Universe works and pay my expenses this time. I paid last time 15 years ago as Webber.



In Response

by: sudarshan from: india
September 25, 2011 11:01
to Frank Philpot i read your response and i am not quiet sure of what your speaking like are you speaking about extra dimensions and neutrino travel in extra dimensions and thus saying we detected the speed in an other dimension
please explain me through mail. my id sudarshanmr.sharma@gmail.com
In Response

by: DampeS8N from: Columbia MD USA
September 25, 2011 19:52
Frank: Everyone already knows what you are trying to say. And indeed, one way to look at the math that governs time dilation is in the way you describe. Which is to say that time appears to slow for objects traveling through space at near C because, when viewed as 4 dimensional space where objects are always traveling at C, and ones at rest in the first 3 dimensions are just traveling entirely in the fourth dimension.

Modern physics understands and makes use of your concept as a way to help understand time dilation. But it isn't that simple. it is highly dependent on your point of reference. And so this can't be considered a complete understanding of reality. It is just a mental tool you can use to begin to grasp the concepts.

In other math terms. You've managed to understand the Pythagorean Theorem, but you haven't yet realized that it is the same as the Equation of a Circle. You understand Algebra, and everyone else around you understands Calculus.

Now, these findings have nothing to do with the above concepts. What you were trying to say, and failing to cogently divulge, still requires C as the speed limit of the universe. These Neutrino curiosities, if true, are as detrimental to your own ideas as they are to those of everyone else.

Now, I am no physicist. I don't pretend to be one. So if I've misstated anything here, I hope someone more versed in the field can come along and do a clearer job of debunking than I have.
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by: Zachary McCann from: Tuscaloosa, AL
September 26, 2011 08:14
I think its funny the above comment says everyone knows what Frank is trying to say. Mostly because I'm a liberal arts guy and I have no clue what Frank is trying to say. Anyway, this kind of advance in science means there are fun new philosophical implications we get to toy around with!

by: Gautam Chaudhuri from: India
September 24, 2011 17:43
Is Sudarshan's conjecture about Tachyon connected to this present observations of neutrino moving slightly faster than light at CERN?

by: Ben
September 24, 2011 17:58
Mr. Gillies(or the author) have mixt up relativities: special relativity is about the speed of light. Rereading articles hastily is ridiculouse.
In Response

by: WangChung from: Largo, Fl
September 26, 2011 11:20
"by: Ben
September 24, 2011 17:58
Reply
Mr. Gillies(or the author) have mixt up relativities: special relativity is about the speed of light. Rereading articles hastily is ridiculouse."

So is spelling ridiculous the way you have. :p

by: Ravi Mistry from: india_gujarat_ahmedabad
September 24, 2011 18:00
here is just my thoughts i don't know whats the reality

here is most interesting result of this experiment but einstein special theory of relativity base is speed of light and his general theory of relativity base is gravity (space time curvature)...according to einstein special theory of relativity nothing can run fast more than speed of light ...because

M=M0 sqrt 1-v^2/c^2

suppose M0=50kg and it could run fast at speed of light

so M=50/ sqrt 1-(299792.458/299792.458)^2

=50/sqrt 1-1

=50/0

=infinite

so if it will try to run fast more than speed of light it require more amount of energy according to E=mc^2.......so it will never run fast more than speed of light ............
but here neutrino has a mass or not if they have a mass they never run fast speed of light according to einstein but if they have no mass it can travel more than speed of light .....but in 1980 japanes physicist take a one experiment of this neutrino (in that experiment he was cover wall with metal and put in that cabin water and light detecter sensor put in wall hole if neutrino has mass it throw to electron of water and it reduce energy )finally he was prove that neutrino has a mass and won nobel prise in 2002 so how is it possible that neutrinos can run fast more than speed of light .....as same tekeyon particle its a antiparticle it already run fast more than speed of light ...but it is antiparticle (antimatter universe) it is requirement more than speed of light because in antimatter universe all thing work like as a mirror universe .......but neutrino has no any charge but may be mistake in speed of light or may be mistake in this result ....may me i am wrong ......same in the case of photon if photon has light mass it never run fast at speed of light because M=M0 sqrt 1-v^2/c^2 but it already travel at speed of light so we can say that it has no mass then how possible photoelectric effect. according to nasa scientist photon have momentum......e=hf...e=pc......so.....pc=hf......so................. p=hf/c..........but ...p=mv.........so..........mv=hf/c............but if m=0......so .............hf/c=0.......so e=0..... how is it possible ........i dont know the reality may be i am wrong........................
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by: Sinisa Lazarek
September 25, 2011 11:58
@india_gujarat_ahmedabad

But here is the interesting thing. The formula you posted is the special relativity mass calculation we all learn in school. Now see what happens if your v >c. We all were thought this is impossible, but math allows it :) You then don't get 0, instead you get a negative number. Now we were all also thought that you can't have square root of the negative number because that's also not possible in real world. But yet, there is "i".. the imaginary numbers and you can have square root of basically any negative number, but it will be expressed as a certain value of "i". A certain "imaginary number" value sounds more interesting than infinity ;)
In Response

by: sk from: Aus
September 25, 2011 14:29
50/0 doesn't make sense, mathematically, unless you mean 50/k as k approaches 0 (k->0).
In Response

by: Ravi Mistry from: india-gujarat-ahmedabad
October 22, 2011 20:24
thank you very much sir but..............................what about it...........please read it whole .......


ACCORDING TO EINSTEIN SPECIAL THEORY OF RELATIVITY,
M=M0/sqrt 1-v^2/c^2


WHERE M=MASS ACCORDING TO SPEED

M0=INITIAL MASS

v=SPEED OF ANYTHING OR ANYBODY

c=SPEED OF LIGHT


SUPPOSE M0=50 kg (SUPPOSE)

v= 300000 km/s (SUPPOSE)

c=299792 km/s

NOW CALCULATE


M=50/sqrt 1-(300000/299792)^2

=50/sqrt 1-(1.00069381437)^2

=50/sqrt 1-1.00138811011

=50/sqrt -0.00138811011

=????????????????????????????????????

here year is not define mathematically in complex number

if any thing for v=c it thing could never run fast more than speed of light because there is m=infinite and requirement infinite amount of energy according to e=mc^2

so if any thing has mass it never run fast faster then light ...its fact according to einstein ......if it will possible then einstein wrong prove

also can you explain light property i mean how can light change it self wave and particle .......when it travel into space it behave like a waves but in photo electric effect it behave like a particle (there is light speed <299792.458 km/s )

also explain that photon has mass or not

if photon has mass it never travel to speed of light
according to special theory of relativity..

when i asked about it nasa i receive answer that photon has no mass(m=0) but it has only momentum but how is it possible because

p=mv but if m=0 so p=0

but nasa say that e=hf and e=pc

so hf =pc

so p=hf/c

but i dont understand it well

because here we can put p=mv

so mv=hf/c

but photon mass is 0

so 0=hf/c

so hf=0

s0 e=0

then how possible photoelectric effect ..........i want to right info please if you can



by: gourav from: pathankot,india
September 24, 2011 18:57
sir,
if beta plus is accompanied by release of neutrino particle then by using conservation of momentum and conservation of energy we might find out the speed of neutrino precisely (if not accurately). And the result always favours einstein's theory. Then through this experiment does it mean that it violates the conservation laws ?
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