The Speed of Light (Updated)

The CERN Scientists’ mind-boggling revelation on the possible faster than light neutrinos has stunned the world. If this finding holds to replication and peer-review then it would change our view of physics. We are at the brink of something new. For many years young scientists were distraught at the lack of revolutionary progress in physics. Many of my friends who undertook physics degrees eventually ended up in biology, computer science and banking. Maybe this is the discovery needed for the new cohort of budding physicists who yearn to see the new Golden Age of physics.

I found this video of Hadhrat Khalifatul Masih IV(ru) on his views about the speed of light.  It is from Majlis Khuddamul Ahmadiyya UK Majlis Irfan of 14 December 1997. This video is most insightful and tells us about the foresight and depth of knowledge of Hadhrat Khalifatul Masih IV(ru).

The tribute that was mentioned in the video is given below. This shows the kind of discussion Hadhrat Khalifatul Masih IV(ru) had with Dr Abdus Salam topics like speed of light. Hadhrat Khalifatul Masih IV(ru) writes:

“This short tribute to the memory of his genius is not meant to dwell upon all his scientific achievements. I want to share with this august assembly today only a few glimpse of Dr Abdus Salam, a man who did not hesitate to discuss immense complexities of his advanced scientific knowledge with an uninitiated person like I was. He took pains to make me understand why the speed of light could not exceed 186,000 miles per second. I continued, however, to argue that under certain hypothetical conditions, the speed of light could be enhanced beyond this limitation. His tolerance with me during the course of this discussion, while I was a mere novice on the subject of theoretical physics, was a great tirbute to his patience and grand-heartedness. At the end, however, he cautiously conceded that if, as I suggested, the properties of the medium which facilitates maximum speed of light could be visualised to be different, the speed of light would correspondingly change, even transcending the present limitation. It was not his personal conviction, of course; his acceptance was conditional only to the big “if” involved. He accepted my suggestion, realising perhaps that the real implication of my suggestion was related to the limitless attributes of God.”

From: Page 135 of The Abus Salam Memorial Meeting Commemoration Day 21 November 1997. At the Abdus Salam International Centre For Theoretical Physics, Trieste. http://unesdoc.unesco.org/images/0011/001190/119078eb.pdf

————————————-

From Nature News:

Published online 22 September 2011 | Nature | doi:10.1038/news.2011.554

Updated online: 23 September 2011

Particles break light-speed limit

Neutrino results challenge cornerstone of modern physics.

Geoff Brumfiel

Has OPERA found super-speedy neutrinos?CERN

An Italian experiment has unveiled evidence that fundamental particles known as neutrinos can travel faster than light. Other researchers are cautious about the result, but if it stands further scrutiny, the finding would overturn the most fundamental rule of modern physics — that nothing travels faster than 299,792,458 metres per second.

The experiment is called OPERA (Oscillation Project with Emulsion-tRacking Apparatus), and lies 1,400 metres underground in the Gran Sasso National Laboratory in Italy. It is designed to study a beam of neutrinos coming from CERN, Europe’s premier high-energy physics laboratory located 730 kilometres away near Geneva, Switzerland. Neutrinos are fundamental particles that are electrically neutral, rarely interact with other matter, and have a vanishingly small mass. But they are all around us — the Sun produces so many neutrinos as a by-product of nuclear reactions that many billions pass through your eye every second.

The 1,800-tonne OPERA detector is a complex array of electronics and photographic emulsion plates, but the new result is simple — the neutrinos are arriving 60 nanoseconds faster than the speed of light allows. “We are shocked,” says Antonio Ereditato, a physicist at the University of Bern in Switzerland and OPERA’s spokesman.

Breaking the law

The idea that nothing can travel faster than light in a vacuum is the cornerstone of Albert Einstein’s special theory of relativity, which itself forms the foundation of modern physics. If neutrinos are travelling faster than light speed, then one of the most fundamental assumptions of science — that the rules of physics are the same for all observers — would be invalidated. “If it’s true, then it’s truly extraordinary,” says John Ellis, a theoretical physicist at CERN.

Ereditato says that he is confident enough in the new result to make it public. The researchers claim to have measured the 730-kilometre trip between CERN and its detector to within 20 centimetres. They can measure the time of the trip to within 10 nanoseconds, and they have seen the effect in more than 16,000 events measured over the past two years. Given all this, they believe the result has a significance of six-sigma — the physicists’ way of saying it is certainly correct. The group will present their results tomorrow at CERN, and a preprint of their results will be posted on the physics website ArXiv.org.

At least one other experiment has seen a similar effect before, albeit with a much lower confidence level. In 2007, the Main Injector Neutrino Oscillation Search (MINOS) experiment in Minnesota saw neutrinos from the particle-physics facility Fermilab in Illinois arriving slightly ahead of schedule. At the time, the MINOS team downplayed the result, in part because there was too much uncertainty in the detector’s exact position to be sure of its significance, says Jenny Thomas, a spokeswoman for the experiment. Thomas says that MINOS was already planning more accurate follow-up experiments before the latest OPERA result. “I’m hoping that we could get that going and make a measurement in a year or two,” she says.

Reasonable doubt

If MINOS were to confirm OPERA’s find, the consequences would be enormous. “If you give up the speed of light, then the construction of special relativity falls down,” says Antonino Zichichi, a theoretical physicist and emeritus professor at the University of Bologna, Italy. Zichichi speculates that the ‘superluminal’ neutrinos detected by OPERA could be slipping through extra dimensions in space, as predicted by theories such as string theory.

Ellis, however, remains sceptical. Many experiments have looked for particles travelling faster than light speed in the past and have come up empty-handed, he says. Most troubling for OPERA is a separate analysis of a pulse of neutrinos from a nearby supernova known as 1987a. If the speeds seen by OPERA were achievable by all neutrinos, then the pulse from the supernova would have shown up years earlier than the exploding star’s flash of light; instead, they arrived within hours of each other. “It’s difficult to reconcile with what OPERA is seeing,” Ellis says.

Ereditato says that he welcomes scepticism from outsiders, but adds that the researchers have been unable to find any other explanation for their remarkable result. “Whenever you are in these conditions, then you have to go to the community,” he says.

The OPERA collaboration has posted a paper describing their result.

————————————-

From BBC:

Speed-of-light results under scrutiny at Cern

By Jason PalmerScience and technology reporter, BBC News

Opera detector
Enormous underground detectors are needed to catch neutrinos, that are so elusive as to be dubbed “ghost particles”

A meeting at Cern, the world’s largest physics lab, has addressed results that suggest subatomic particles have gone faster than the speed of light.

The team presented its work so other scientists can determine if the approach contains any mistakes.

If it does not, one of the pillars of modern science will come tumbling down.

Antonio Ereditato added “words of caution” to his Cern presentation because of the “potentially great impact on physics” of the result.

The speed of light is widely held to be the Universe’s ultimate speed limit, and much of modern physics – as laid out in part by Albert Einstein in his theory of special relativity – depends on the idea that nothing can exceed it.

We want to be helped by the community in understanding our crazy result – because it is crazy

Thousands of experiments have been undertaken to measure it ever more precisely, and no result has ever spotted a particle breaking the limit.

“We tried to find all possible explanations for this,” the report’s author Antonio Ereditato of the Opera collaboration told BBC News on Thursday evening.

“We wanted to find a mistake – trivial mistakes, more complicated mistakes, or nasty effects – and we didn’t.

“When you don’t find anything, then you say ‘well, now I’m forced to go out and ask the community to scrutinise this’.”

Friday’s meeting was designed to begin this process, with hopes that other scientists will find inconsistencies in the measurements and, hopefully, repeat the experiment elsewhere.

“Despite the large [statistical] significance of this measurement that you have seen and the stability of the analysis, since it has a potentially great impact on physics, this motivates the continuation of our studies in order to find still-unknown systematic effects,” Dr Ereditato told the meeting.

“We look forward to independent measurement from other experiments.”

Graphic of the Opera experiment

Neutrinos come in a number of types, and have recently been seen to switch spontaneously from one type to another.

The Cern team prepares a beam of just one type, muon neutrinos, and sends them through the Earth to an underground laboratory at Gran Sasso in Italy to see how many show up as a different type, tau neutrinos.

In the course of doing the experiments, the researchers noticed that the particles showed up 60 billionths of a second earlier than they would have done if they had travelled at the speed of light.

This is a tiny fractional change – just 20 parts in a million – but one that occurs consistently.

The team measured the travel times of neutrino bunches some 16,000 times, and have reached a level of statistical significance that in scientific circles would count as a formal discovery.

But the group understands that what are known as “systematic errors” could easily make an erroneous result look like a breaking of the ultimate speed limit.

That has motivated them to publish their measurements.

“My dream would be that another, independent experiment finds the same thing – then I would be relieved,” Dr Ereditato told BBC News.

But for now, he explained, “we are not claiming things, we want just to be helped by the community in understanding our crazy result – because it is crazy”.

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11 comments

  1. Hadhrat Khalifatul Masih IV Mirza Tahir Ahmad(ru) tribute to Dr Abdus Salam.

    An excerpt regarding speed of light:

    “This short tribute to the memory of his genius is not meant to dwell upon all his scientific achievements. I want to share with this august assembly today only a few glimpse of Dr Abdus Salam, a man who did not hesitate to discuss immense complexities of his advanced scientific knowledge with an uninitiated person like I was. He took pains to make me understand why the speed of light could not exceed 186,000 miles per second. I continued, however, to argue that under certain hypothetical conditions, the speed of light could be enhanced beyond this limitation. His tolerance with me during the course of this discussion, while I was a mere novice on the subject of theoretical physics, was a great tirbute to his patience and grand-heartedness. At the end, however, he cautiously conceded that if, as I suggested, the properties of the medium which facilitates maximum speed of light could be visualised to be different, the speed of light would correspondingly change, even transcending the present limitation. It was not his personal conviction, of course; his acceptance was conditional only to the big “if” involved. He accepted my suggestion, realising perhaps that the real implication of my suggestion was related to the limitless attributes of God.”

    From: Page 135 of The Abus Salam Memorial Meeting Commemoration Day 21 November 1997. At the Abdus Salam International Centre For Theoretical Physics, Trieste.
    http://unesdoc.unesco.org/images/0011/001190/119078eb.pdf

    1. Cerenkov radiation is what would happen when say an electron goes faster than the speed of light in a medium such as water… no surprise in this paper. Interesting and a big shame if it is not true.

      1. Many of these papers are theoretical. We must understand that experiment and observation takes precedence. Thus till they can disprove these results via experiments no paper that is just based on theory would be able to disprove it.

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