In the last quarter of 2011, Gran Sasso National Laboratory published a paper suggesting that neutrinos may be travelling 60 nanoseconds faster than the speed of light; the published paper was an invitation for other physicists to scrutinise their data. Earlier this week, 16th March 2012, Scientific American reported on CERN’s ICARUS experiment, who recently announced that their measurements showed neutrinos “travelling at a velocity indistinguishable from the speed of light” and not 60 nanoseconds faster.
For further information, please read John Matson’s article published in Scientific American, “Not So Fast: Independent Measurement Shows Neutrinos Don’t Exceed Speed Of Light“. Alternatively ICARUS findings on the 60 nanosecond measurement problem can be found at arXiv.org. The evidence is beginning to confirm that Einstein’s Special Relativity stands fast and the current laws of physics as we understand them, are still factually accurate.
According to the current Standard Model of Particle Physics, Neutrinos are members of the Fermion-Lepton family, are electrically neutral and have a small amount of mass. They are not seen to be ‘massless’ like their Force carrier family of particles called Bosons, of which the photon (electromagnetic, or commonly known as ‘light’ carrier) is a member.
So if neutrinos travel at a velocity which is “indistinguishable from the speed of light,” how is this possible? They may not be travelling faster, but under the current laws of physics, nor should they be travelling at an indistinguishable velocity to that of the speed of light, as neutrinos have mass.
I am for the moment ignoring the fact that neutrinos are very slippery particles which are difficult to measure as they can jump between different types of neutrinos, as well as appear to flip in and out of our 4 dimensional space-time, like an alchemist’s shadow, not being really solid and not all quite there.
I find these unanswered questions more interesting, something that so far has been overlooked from what I have read, since the ‘aghast’ at the result of neutrinos possibly travelling 60 nanoseconds faster than the speed of light.
What other hidden puzzle pieces are we missing from the jigsaw Standard Model of Particle Physics? When we look at neutrinos, they tend to be more like shadows, reflections on a 4 dimensional space-time, with behaviour that is a little zany and not all quiet there. Yet they exist, or rather can be measured most of the time, and have mass.
And if an object with a tiny amount of mass can travel at a velocity which is indistinguishable from the speed of light, what is really going on with the neutrino?
Update: A new set of results in March 2012 by the Icarus group, also based at the Gran Sasso underground laboratory in Italy, reveal that neutrinos from CERN laboratory in Switzerland are not breaking the light barrier. Researches have confirmed in June 2012 that faulty wiring resulted in a time measuring error.
While their maybe some embarrassment by the initial results, to me this demonstrates good science. Results were published to the wider scientific community, following analysis by the Opera team who requested help in figuring this conundrum. The data was trawled, hypotheses tested, new experiments were ran, papers published, peer reviewed and a conclusive result was found; albeit faulty wiring caused a timing error.
With the mass media coverage, the Opera team also had the bonus effect of raising additional awareness into particle physics research. This is a win situation, as one should not be afraid of failure, we can learn from our mistakes and take new approaches to resolving complex problems.