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OPERA confirms earlier claims of faster-than-light neutrinos

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November 18, 2011

Scientists from the OPERA project are reporting that new experiments confirm their earlier...

Scientists from the OPERA project are reporting that new experiments confirm their earlier claim that faster-than-light travel is possible ... for neutrinos (Photo: Andres Rueda)

On September 23rd, researchers from the European OPERA project made the now-famous announcement that they had observed neutrinos traveling faster than the speed of light. Given that Einstein's special theory of relativity states that nothing can travel faster than the speed of light, their proclamation was naturally met with some skepticism - various physicists stated that there was likely a flaw in the design, implementation or calculations involved the experiment. To their credit, the OPERA collaborative made a point of inviting other scientists to try to replicate their results. In the meantime, however, they've replicated those results themselves, and announced today that neutrinos still appear to be the speediest particles in the universe.

The original set of experiments consisted of generating a neutrino beam at the Geneva-based CERN particle accelerator, and shooting it 730 kilometers (454 miles) south to an underground laboratory in Gran Sasso, Italy. While photons (light particles) had been repeatedly detected at Gran Sasso 2.4 milliseconds after leaving CERN, the neutrinos reportedly made the same trip in 60 nanoseconds less time.

In the more recent experiments, very short neutrino beam pulses were used in order to ensure precise measurements. Those pulses were just 3 nanoseconds long, separated by gaps of up to 524 nanoseconds. Twenty "clean neutrino events" were detected at Gran Sasso, which the researchers claim were precisely associated with pulses leaving CERN. In all cases, the measurements confirmed the findings that were originally presented.

As before, however, OPERA has stated that an outside party must independently verify the measurements before they can be officially confirmed.

A paper on the latest findings is available on the Inspire website.

Update May 27, 2014: Claims of faster than light neutrinos have been debunked according to this CERN press release – thanks to commenter Dan Linder for the heads-up.

About the Author
Ben Coxworth An experienced freelance writer, videographer and television producer, Ben's interest in all forms of innovation is particularly fanatical when it comes to human-powered transportation, film-making gear, environmentally-friendly technologies and anything that's designed to go underwater. He lives in Edmonton, Alberta, where he spends a lot of time going over the handlebars of his mountain bike, hanging out in off-leash parks, and wishing the Pacific Ocean wasn't so far away.   All articles by Ben Coxworth
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28 Comments

Photons were detected 2.4 milliseconds after leaving CERN (730km away). How exactly did that do THAT! Regardless, it clearly wasn't through the medium of empty space ( ie a vacuum) where light really does travel at the speed of light. I'd assume that photons therefore, would have to arrive somewhat sooner that if they were travelling at exactly C and that neutrinos wouldn't. Plus, have they actually taken relativity into account with their measurements? I'm sure the CERN scientists have explanations for everything though, except for the actual result. This is certainly an interesting experimental result and I'll be interested in the final outcome of it all.

Tommygun
18th November, 2011 @ 11:18 am PST

Well, come on somebody educated in these things enlighten us as to the potential impact this may have on humanity?? Can we at least take out marketing departments with neutrino's?

Vincent Proxy
18th November, 2011 @ 12:36 pm PST

does this change everything? anything?

hourglass
18th November, 2011 @ 03:14 pm PST

This doesn't change everything. It merely destroys the foundations of about 100 years of physics if it's true.

And if we join it with the possibility that CERN can't find Higgs' boson, our entire physics model can be wrong.

Ok, I'm being a little dramatic. Only quantum physics and everything that depends on Einstein's relativity can be wrong. Newton's physics is still right (where it can be applied), fluid mechanics and those "simple" things are not being questioned with this experiments.

Facebook User
18th November, 2011 @ 03:58 pm PST

Actually it does change everything considering modern physics is based on Einstiens theory of relativity.

Bill Kelsey
18th November, 2011 @ 05:27 pm PST

This experiment does not fit with other neutrino observations over a larger distance.

There was a supernova event where the neutrinos reached earth 3 hours before the protons. They arrived 3 hours earlier because they don't have a charge. Protons interact with other particles along the way and are slowed down a bit.

If the observations of this experiment were correct, the neutrinos should have arrived 4 days earlier, not 3 hours. It is most probable that there is something they are over looking. One report stated that the distance between the two points of the experiment was being measured by satellite and that the relativity of the satellite had not been taken in to account.

5wiglets
18th November, 2011 @ 07:01 pm PST

The particle arrived sooner but do so with out traveling faster than light. How is this possible you ask? Well Time dilation is a well known phenomenon where (per special relativity) as an object travels faster it experience time more slowly. GPS satellites have to constantly reset their clocks to match ours here on earth. The piece we are missing is frame of reference we are "at rest" (for argument sake) measuring its speed. Now as the particle approaches the speed of light it experiences time slower so that it appears to us to have traveled the distance faster. The implication? Well for starters how about we keep these particles in a high state of energy C+ and you would be able to send encoded information back in time. Mind you only back to the time when the machine was built but world changing just the same. They should start looking for particles being sent back now, if it will ever be possible we would be able to tell.

Jason Woods
18th November, 2011 @ 08:57 pm PST

I feel as though it is merely human error that is causing all this fuss.... + Somehow I'm doubting the sensors are synced properly (As nothing is ever in sync)

Marco Pang
19th November, 2011 @ 04:45 am PST

@Tommygun: Well the point is, (as I understand it) according to Einstein NOTHING can travel faster than the speed of light, no matter what the circumstances. In this case, neutrinos would have been travelling in the same medium as photons, so the mere fact that the neutrinos arrived earlier than the photons means that they were travelling "faster than light", which should not happen whether it's in a vacuum or not.

Satviewer2000
19th November, 2011 @ 09:29 pm PST

First, the results do not upset Einstein's Relativity Theory. Second, Einstein never said nothing could travel faster than light. He postulated that anything traveling faster than the speed of light would never travel less than it. Third, Einstein's theory is based on the dependence of the concept of time on the concept of space. We perceive the existence of time as a direct consequence of our perception of space; more specifically changes in perception of space. Other postulated that if one exceeded the speed of light then time would run in reverse. Reality is that time in the context of perceived space would cease to exist. The problem is with the notion of limit. Eistein-Rosen Bridges in fact make it possible to transit perceived space faster than the speed of light; by effectively exiting perceived space and re-entering it. The critical factor in all of it is the notion of perceived, or observable. The only thing the results upset is quantum theory and quantum mechanics. The observed arrival obviously did not precede the observed departure, so the classical notion of causality remains intact. The result supports an alternative multi-dimensional model that subsumes Einstein's Relativity Theory, where in E=MC^2 defines a surface within which our existential notion of space-time exists. Exiting the contained subspace and re-entering later provides a path for perceived faster than light travel in the subspace (effectively an Einstein-Rosen Bridge as such would exist in the context of the model).

NoResponse
20th November, 2011 @ 07:14 pm PST

@Satviewer2000: According to the equations, nothing with mass can approach the speed of light not that nothing can go faster than the speed of light. Anything with mass increases in mass as it approaches the speed of light thus requiring more energy to further accelerate it up to the speed of light. So, infinite energy is needed to get anything with mass up to the speed of light (this is the impossible part). However, if something were to come into existence that was already travelling faster than the speed of light, there would be no infinite energy requirement but the speed of light would still technically be surpassed.

Nathan Woody
20th November, 2011 @ 07:31 pm PST

Look people, Einstein NEVER said that NOTHING can travel faster than the speed of light.

What he said, as I understand it, is that nothing can accelerate from REST to a speed faster than the speed of light. He was a scientist and very precise in his language.

What that means is that you can't start of FROM REST and get across the light barrier.

However, as far as I know, particles can come into existence, and vanish out of existence, whilst being ALL THE TIME faster than the speed of light. In other words they are ALWAYS ON THE OTHER SIDE of the light barrier.

Whether this newly-described phenomenon BREAKS the light barrier is not clear from the information to hand. Does anybody know what exactly happened?

Patrick Corliss
20th November, 2011 @ 07:41 pm PST

Zefram Cochrane may yet be vindicated...

Neil
20th November, 2011 @ 11:39 pm PST

I've only got two things to say.

1) Phlogyston

2) Theory.

Although I could perhaps add 'Priestly."

Sqidge
21st November, 2011 @ 03:48 am PST

I'd like to point out that Einstein's Special Relativity doesn't say that nothing can travel faster than light.

It says that nothing can accelerate to nor through the speed of light.

You see: As an object get really Really REALLY close to the speed of light, the object's mass gets really Really REALLY close to infinite, so there's nothing than can make it move any faster.

Something that starts out faster than the speed of light (anyone remember the tachyon?) seems to be perfectly all right!

Neutrinos may be a special case, too. The light-speed limit is because mass increases as an object approaches the speed of light, right? Since a neutrino has NO mass, well... who cares how much the mass is multiplied by really Really REALLY close-to-light-speed travel?!?!

186,000 miles per second: It's not just a good idea... it's the LAW!

Al Sohlstrom
21st November, 2011 @ 08:46 am PST

The problem with existing theory is in electromagnetism. We are taught a subset of Maxwell's theory which exclude transverse and scalar electromagnetic waves. Two exellent books to study to rectify this defect are "Scalar Waves" by Konstantin Meyl and "Energy from the Vacuum" by Thomas Beardon. After studying "Scalar Waves" you will see why neutrinos can travel faster than light. After studying "Energy from the Vacuum" you will see how free energy and antigravity become possible.

Herbert Dorsey
21st November, 2011 @ 10:24 am PST

Well, poor Einstein, It is easy to forget, he did not even have a digital watch to time things with, no computer of any sort, just good old fashion math and thought experiments... The great man will never be wrong, other people are just using awesome new technologies to prove or disprove parts of his cleaver papers... 'He will always be the great man in all of our minds' The smart dude with the funny hair:)

Paul Perkins
21st November, 2011 @ 11:31 am PST

If this is true then the neutrinos will be travelling backward in time throughout their journey (tachyons) and if the speed is high enough, they could arrive before they leave which would be an interesting result!

warren52nz
21st November, 2011 @ 11:58 am PST

When I recently stayed in a camping in that area, I saw Italian police officers disappearing into a hole in the ground. I assumed they were hiding from the falling Berlusconi but now I know they have been interfering with the OPERA experiment. As they have nothing to do all day, they started to perform some traffic regulations down there. You can imagine they have been fining those neutrinos. I expect the neutrinos' currency is not able to compete against the Euro, which actually should be free falling at a speed determined by Newton's law but isn't. Thus, those scarred neutrinos, unable to pay their fines, decided to escape from the Italian police officers in their ultra-C speed cars. Now I know I feel really relieved. To Plato, science still was a myth, remember.

wimvanhoye
21st November, 2011 @ 12:08 pm PST

I have noticed with all the comments that no-one has even discussed that the neutrinos traveling faster than the speed of light where actually, possibly, traveling faster than time itself. Hence traveling into the future. Is this a plausible state for the neutrinos? I am not a scientist but from what I remember from my old school days in physics is that if any mass was to beat the speed of light then that said mass would actually be traveling into the future.

So many of Hollywood's Sci-fi adventures do actually dabble in the possibility of future technology allowing time travel. As in relation to breaking any of Einsteins theories I don't think I have ever read anywhere that the brilliant scientist ever said that the speed of light is the fastest that a mass can ever go.

The repeat of the experiment by CERN is exciting an may even lead us down the path of turning what once was only Science fiction into a reality. Good Luck and God Bless. This is so much better than doing experiments on Climate and Global Warming. Thanks!

Scott Bailey
21st November, 2011 @ 05:47 pm PST

one practical application could be communication-especially over great distances, like space, i think.

hogi90
23rd November, 2011 @ 01:37 pm PST

send information through packets of neutrinos? I guess we will have to figure out a way to better detect them, but with nano science coming up with potential nano sized antennas anything is possible.

All I know is if the experimental results are valid we are going to have get some new equations.

And if you haven't already the paper published: http://arxiv.org/ftp/arxiv/papers/1109/1109.4897.pdf

The scale of this experiment is just awesome. Sure beats my kinect erector set

Hoodoo Yootink
7th December, 2011 @ 11:10 am PST

Of course we can travel faster than the speed of light, I've seen it on TV.

Seriously, saying that we can't travel faster than the speed of light is like saying that we can't travel faster than 12 miles an hour or later that we couldn't travel faster than the speed of sound, we simply do not have the technology to break the light barrier, yet.

I do however agree with Jason Woods, at least in the interim.

Facebook User
20th May, 2014 @ 11:10 pm PDT

Honestly, this isn't surprising to me. The problem isn't that they went faster than light, it is that we have the maximum speed of light calculated wrong. Gravity affects light, this is a proven scientific theory. As one scientific principle states, if something has an effect on another thing, it ALWAYS affects it. Light, unrestrained by gravity, will likely travel faster than we calculated. The neutrinos probably are less affected by local gravity than light, ergo they go faster. A similar effect can be seen in the "spooky" action of photons. Researchers at Cern found that split photons could travel faster than light, but that too was chalked up to "errors". This also changes some other things, and we need to recalculate quite a bit.

Eruanion Nolaquen
25th May, 2014 @ 10:58 pm PDT

This article is old and debunked:

http://news.sciencemag.org/2012/06/once-again-physicists-debunk-faster-light-neutrinos

Dan_Linder
26th May, 2014 @ 05:22 pm PDT

Thoughts have no mass. When an idea, or a thought occurs, it occurs throughout the known universe....there is no travel time for a thought, so thoughts "travel" faster than the speed of light.

Cliff Lapp
28th May, 2014 @ 03:43 pm PDT

Here's a link to an article with a clear explanation about the significance of the 3 hour time difference between detection of the neutrinos and photons from the 1987 supernova.

http://profmattstrassler.com/2011/09/20/supernovas-and-neutrinos/

In short, the neutrinos escaped the star core immediately, while the shock wave from the blast had to make its way to the star surface before the debris started to glow.

Brackish
5th June, 2014 @ 04:20 pm PDT

neutrinos are about as close to nothing as something can get...

Charles Barnard
11th July, 2014 @ 12:18 pm PDT
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