November 21, 2011
Faster Than The Speed Of Light? Not So Fast Scientists Say
Italian scientists who had seemingly found further evidence that neutrino particles were in fact traveling faster than the speed of light based on experiments have been dealt a major blow over the weekend by another team working at the Gran Sasso laboratory in Italy that claims the evidence must be flawed, according to a recent Reuters report.
An announcement in September by a team of scientists working on the OPERA (Oscillation Project with Emulsion-tracking Apparatus) experiment claiming that their calculations showed that neutrinos traveling from CERN, on the French-Swiss border, to the Gran Sasso facility, near Rome, drew international fire from physicists and other theorists around the world troubled that Albert Einstein´s theory of relativity was being picked apart.
And the furor across the scientific world was only intensified when, just last week, new studies by the Gran Sasso scientists seemed to confirm that the neutrinos were in fact traveling 60 nanoseconds faster than the speed of light.
But ICARUS, another experiment at Gran Sasso, operated by Italy´s National Institute of Natural Physics, is arguing that both previous experiments were flawed and their measurements of the arrival times of those neutrinos are contradictory.
The ICARUS team posted a paper Saturday at arxiv.org/abs/1110.3763v2 that “refute[s] a superluminal (faster than light) interpretation of the OPERA result.”
They argue, based on recently published studies by two leading US physicists, that the neutrinos traveling from CERN to Gran Sasso, should have lost most of their energy even if they had traveled at even a fraction faster than the speed of light.
Following OPERA´s secondary test results, a scientist for the Italian Institute for Nuclear Physics said in a statement the new tests were undertaken to exclude a potential systematic effect that may have affected the original experiment´s measurement.
“A measurement so delicate and carrying a profound implication on physics requires an extraordinary level of scrutiny,” Fernando Ferroni, president of the INFN, told Reuters last week. “The positive outcome of the test makes us more confident in the result, although a final word can only be said by analogous measurements performed elsewhere in the world.”
Dario Autiero, of the French National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS), said those findings needed further scrutiny before they could be definitively confirmed or refuted.
And in fact, the ICARUS scientists said the neutrino beam, as tested in their own equipment, registered an energy spectrum fully corresponding with what it should be for particles traveling at the speed of light and no more.
The ICARUS paper was “very simple and definitive,” physicist Tomasso Dorigo, who works at CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, and the U.S. Fermilab near Chicago, said in a post on Scientific Blogging website.
The paper says “that the difference between the speed of neutrinos and the speed of light cannot be as large as that seen by OPERA, and is certainly smaller than that by three orders of magnitude, and compatible with zero,” Dorigo wrote.
Under Einstein´s theory of special relativity, nothing in the universe can travel faster than light. That theory has remained the mainstay in the scientific world for more than a century.
When the OPERA findings were first revealed, there was widespread skepticism throughout the scientific community. Even the scientists working on the experiment insisted they were not announcing a new discovery but simply recording measurements they had made and carefully scrutinized.
However, they said the new experiments, revealed last Friday, produced the same results as the original September findings. Independent scientists said however this was not conclusive.
In order to confirm or refute the evidence, other scientists, notably those working at Fermilab and the KEK lab in Japan, are preparing similar experiments. Confirmation from one of these sites would open the door for the theory that relativity really isn´t that special.
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