60 nanosecond measurement problem

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.

Standard Model of Particle Physics
Standard Model of Particle Physics – AAAS

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.


Do space-time black-holes really exist?

Cosmologists, astrophysicists and other ‘space scientists’ have a good idea how massive objects such as stars, dwarf stars, neutrino stars, magnetars, galaxies and quasars function within our Universe today. Theoretically the mechanics of what forms a “black-hole” are understood by many physicists. But what is a black-hole?

The conventional explanation is that a black-hole is a region of space-time from which nothing, not even light can escape. A black-hole is formed by a stellar object that has collapsed in on itself due to the star’s own gravitational forces. Surrounding a black-hole is a mathematically defined region of space called an event horizon; this is a boundary where not only nothing can escape but also the current laws of physics break down. Where boundaries exist within scientific knowledge, usually a theory is incomplete.

Missing knowledge with black-hole theory is a problem, not least because the two main descriptions of the Universe are currently incompatible: relativity (general) and quantum theory. Black-holes were first postulated by Karl Schwarzschild. Many other physicists have subsequently analysed Albert Einstein‘s theory of general relativity and produced new insights into the theoretical behaviour of gravitationally large objects.

John Archibald Wheeler who collaborated with Einstein, also worked with Niels Bohr to explain the basic principles behind nuclear fission (how stars make heat and light); he also coined the term “black-hole”. Wheeler tried to unite the fundamental forces (electromagnetic, strong, weak and gravitation), carrying on Einstein’s search for a unified field theory. To this day, there remains gaps in our knowledge between the fundamental forces. While three of the forces can be tangled together in various theories, the weakest force gravity, remains for the most part left out in the cold.

Quantum electrodynamics (QED) describes how light and matter interact unifying the electromagnetic force , quantum mechanics (very small-scale) and special relativity (the larger scale). However no current theory currently unites the forces of gravity as described within Einstein’s general theory of relativity to quantum mechanics without having to invent extra dimensions or describe the structure of matter using strings; none of these higher-dimensional theories are testable with our current level of knowledge. This once again demonstrates a boundary to these theories, boundaries in knowledge usually exemplify a lack of understanding or missing information; the jigsaw is still incomplete.

During the 1970s a young British physicist called Stephen Hawking postulated a theory about black holes. Professor Hawking demonstrated theoretically that black-holes radiate energy (Hawking radiation) and thus evaporate away as heat energy (entropy) through quantum effects.

With Professor Hawking’s theory, what happens if a complicated but highly ordered entropy object such as a space rocket were to fall onto a black-hole? In theory, all the information that made up the space rocket should still be retained by the black-hole; according to the laws of entropy. However if black-holes can evaporate, what happens to that information? I would conjecture a simple answer in that, as the object falls onto the black-hole, its entropy state moves from a highly ordered state to a highly disordered state, possibly through ‘spaghettification’ process, while still remaining complex; however this is pure conjecture on my part.

Although we have scientific and mathematical explanations of what a black-hole could be, no one has directly observed a black-hole; however with newly available telescopes, observation of a black-hole’s effect on neighbouring stellar matter may be possible. In 1972 a bright X-ray source was detected somewhere in the region of the constellation of Cygnus. A young blue star in this region was producing X-rays, however according to our current physics theories, blue stars don’t emit X-rays. Discovered close to this blue star was a ‘dark’ companion object, measured to have at least 6 times the mass of our Sun, with a physical size smaller than the Earth. This object has been named Cygnus X-1 and was the first astronomically detected candidate black-hole object.

Black-holes represent not just a boundary in our knowledge of physics, but also a real descriptive boundary with an event horizon. Although we can’t physically look at a black-hole, we can see its effect on other close-by objects, such as stars. Black-holes are often described using Karl Schwarzschild’s theory of non-rotating black-holes with a ‘dot’ singularity at their centre. While this is a nice curiosity, in reality, stars tend to rotate.

This is where Kerr black-holes come-in. A rotating black-hole as described by Roy Kerr has two main properties: its gravitational strength and the amount of rotation. With the Kerr solution of a rotating black-hole, there is a region of space-time called the ergosphere that surrounds the black-hole’s event horizon. The ergosphere in effect acts similar to a secondary event horizon. The rotational speed of a Kerr black-hole may also allow odd effects such as time-travel or passing safely through the inside of a black-hole. However this is dependent upon: how your space rocket approaches the ergosphere, the rotational spin speed of the black-hole, the black-hole’s size and its electrical properties if it has any.

We can indirectly ‘see’ a black-hole by looking at the electromagnetic radiation being emitted when fuelled by a companion star. Although Hawking radiation is being looked for in black-hole candidate objects, this process has not yet been observed. Quantum effects may still be occurring, they may not be detectable with current technology as other electromagnetic radiation could be swamping out the Hawking radiation process.

Another very troubling idea follows from the very nature of a black-hole: black-holes ‘forget’ what they consume, from the point of view of an observer who resides outside a black-hole; they can’t see inside it. The aforementioned complex but highly ordered entropy (the information of what makes an object an object) of say a space rocket is lost from the Universe as it falls into a black-hole’s event horizon; like socks in a wash never to be found again. One might speculate that the total information of an object that falls into a black-hole is moved from a highly ordered state to a highly un-ordered state to an external observer. If however information on the space rocket does goes missing, where does it go?

Physicists have worked out the current set of limits for stars. Black-hole candidate objects such as Cygnus X-1 are small in measurable size, have very strong gravitational fields (they appear to be massive objects) and emit no visible light (indication of nuclear fission within a star) but emit X-rays or radio-waves. How other types of stellar objects function, such as dwarf stars, neutron stars and their more bizarre cousins magnetars is known. Cygnus X-1’s behaviour does not match any of the directly observable stellar objects.

Before I go further dear reader, I would like to explain a little background information on the scientific approach. The scientific method looks for answers by testing hypothesis against observation and accordingly updates knowledge with newly learnt information. Following on from new innovations and inventions, scientific theories are updated if new information is learnt from new observations; this process is iterative. Science does not set knowledge in unchangeable boundaries, which consequently results in existing scientific theories being updated.

Although current theoretical descriptions for black-holes appear to match indirect observation, there are other theories which also should be considered. George Chaplin discusses in Scientific American’s blogs that maybe black-holes don’t really exist. Chaplin’s argument centres around the yet unexplained phenomena of a jet of charged particles moving at nearly the speed of light being ejected: “but there is no obvious reason why the tidal disruption of star by a black hole should give rise to such a jet“. Chaplin also states: “Pawel Mazur and I realized some time ago that quantum gravitational effects modify the collapse process”. These jets are produced in “crystal stars” or “dark energy stars”. There is merit in Chaplin’s theory and although many astrophysicists may easily dismiss Chaplin’s ideas, they should take a closer look. George Chaplin’s “crystal stars” are testable in a way that black-holes may not be.

The very description of a black-hole with a singularity, whether Schwarzschild or Kerr is troubling. It’s troubling because singularities also infer another area of physics where there is a knowledge boundary. However there have been lots of knowledge boundaries in past human history, as we innovate and invent, often knowledge boundaries can be overcome. With better telescopes and future experimentation, the stellar dust can be laid-to-rest.

Adding to the black-hole theoretical crucible is another idea which suggests “black holes turn into fuzzballs“. Professor Jon Butterworth discusses a talk given by Samir Mathur of Ohio State University at the Tata Institute in Mumbai on the Lepton Photon. Entropy is key to this debate. As previously mentioned, the troubling idea that black-holes forget the information they consume goes against thermodynamics which states that entropy cannot disappear from a system. Mathur has applied string theory to a black-hole and the entropy problem becomes resolved by removing the singularity and applying quantum gravity to the event horizon; thus producing “fuzzballs”.

From observational evidence, physicists know that an object which rotates very fast is going to exert a greater gravitational force than an object with little or no rotation. How an object moves in space-time can also effect its mass; special relativity confirms this. Professor Frank Tipler in 1974 produced a paper entitled “Rotating Cylinders and the Possibility of Global Causality Violation” where he proposes a solution for creating a time machine; Tipler’s solution focuses on the use of the frame-dragging effect. If dark-star object measurements are accurate, such as with the March 28 Swift event, where a “dark-star” rotates at 98% – 99% the speed of light, this would create massive gravitational forces and consequently frame-dragging effects that would in-turn generate weird quantum effects around the surrounding dark-star’s space-time. If the dark-star also is partly composed of neutrons or quarks in addition to dark-energy, it could create various density pressures, moving elliptically inside its internal structure producing possible time-dilation effects. Other theoretical explanations can be thought up in place for black-holes.

Another theory put forward by physics professor Martin Bojowald suggests the Universe could become forgetful, due to a combination of quantum theory and space-time physics. This theorizing could lead one to ask the question is “fundamental physics too theory-led?” Professor Jon Butterworth suggests three counter points to this question: thought experiments, electroweak symmetry breaking and gloating, i.e., experimental evidence within this context.

To expand knowledge, we need to do experimental science to confirm theories, such as the LHC, space telescope astronomy, etc. Many past scientific theories have been swept away with newer and better versions. Bad science, misrepresentation, often in the media while reporting results or exaggeration of scientific claims can damage science in the public’s perception. Niels Bohr talked about the importance of language and the words we use to describe something; choosing an incorrect or misleading word can easily misinform or misdirect a debate.

There are examples in science of exaggerated claims, such as the human genome project’s original claim that following 10 years of decoding, which is now complete in 2011, we would fully understand the human genome and be able to find cures to illness. These exaggerated claims in the media have not held up, but this does not mean that a very important milestone has not been reached. We now have a new vast tome of information added to the human library of knowledge. New information is constantly being added as more is learnt, including how much more complex understanding the human genome is. A whole new branch of scientific research has grown following on from the human genome project: bio-hacking.

There were claims over 30 years ago in the media of a personal transportation system in the form of a jet-pack being available for all by 2000; personally I am still waiting for mine. Some technologies move faster forward than others, such as computing. Without the scientific research, observation and understanding of what is about us in-conjunction with innovation and invention, we may stagnate or even go backwards. Many of the inventions and technologies we enjoy today, from books, medicine, heating and cooling systems, transportation, computing, drawing with a pencil, to name a few have a basis on scientific thought.

Theoretical science should be explored, including esoteric ideas such as warp engines, time travel and black-hole physics. After all people taking to the skies has been postulated by many. We know of manuscripts that remain today from Leonardo da Vinci, however human flight in the 14th century would have seem fantasy to many; as science fiction in today’s world with an idea on deep space travel does. The aviation pioneers of the late 19th and early 20th centuries turned an idea into a technology in the early 20th century, based upon the scientific knowledge of the age. As we moved into the jet age we take aircraft for granted, but the basis is scientific theory with its application in technology.

So what do we understand about black-holes? When a black-hole is formed, in theory nuclear forces have ceased to function in the star’s core. However there maybe other elements at play, such as compact neutrons, electrical charge, neutrinos, quantum chromodynamics. Other quantum effects may also be at play; research will continue and new theories may arise, some may even be testable in the future. Those who follow scientific principles will continue to seek new knowledge, that we can be assured of.

So do space-time black-holes really exist? Well, the existing evidence would suggest that they do. This does not rule out other exotic stellar objects such as “dark-stars” or “fuzzballs”. I think it is fair to say that astrophysicists have a good idea of the sort of stellar object a black-hole candidate is not, but also good theories of what it might be.

What constitutes time?

A definition of time can be found within the second law of thermodynamics, in entropy. From entropy we can establish a direction for the flow of time within the classical physics world. Entropy at its core is about energy and heat transfer. Heat can be transferred from one body to another by electromagnetic radiation.

Electromagnetic radiation has several measurable components, wavelength, electron volt and frequency and its energy can be calculated using classical and quantum methods, seen as a wave or a particle. Waves and oscillations permeate the universe and are present in whatever form of tool we use to describe the world about us.

One component of a wave or an oscillation is its frequency. We can experience frequency in the form of an earth tremor, as the ground shakes and the earth’s mantle vibrates. The word frequency is defined as being, “The rate of repetition of a regular event. The number of cycles of a wave, or some other oscillation or vibration”, source: Oxford Dictionary of Science, John Daintith, Elizabeth Martin, et al., 2005, Oxford University Press.

Subatomic particles can be broken down into smaller and smaller components. LHC at CERN is attempting to confirm experimentally what theoretical physicists postulate for the structure of matter. I am proposing a thought experiment as to postulate further what time is.

Under General Relativity, time is experienced through the curvature of space; space is curved by mass (matter) essentially. Within quantum mechanics, matter is divisible down to quantum – a discrete packet or quantity of energy proportional in magnitude to the frequency of radiation it represents. The energy packet that forms the quantum also has a frequency property. This can be seen in atoms which have their own corresponding characteristics, including a different frequency for every type of atom.

So is it frequency (or vibration) of a discrete quantum what shapes or rather creates the geometry (spatial configuration) of that discrete particle or atom?

For example take the humble electron, an elementary particle of matter. An electron has a specific vibration pattern, wave function or frequency (they shake at a specific rate); is it this specific wobbling what makes an electron an electron? Is it a distinctive frequency that shapes the geometry of this quantum, an internal pattern to its energy wave structure what makes us ‘see’ an electron? An electron has to rotate through 720 degrees to look the same as it did before, not 360 degrees as with a normal Lorentz symmetry transformation; as do neutrinos.

Lets take a carbon atom. The sub-atomic particles which form an atom like carbon-12 are 6 electrons, 6 neutrons and 6 protons. Protons and neutrons are themselves made up of smaller elementary particles called quarks. Beneath quarks? Well supposedly nothing, but maybe loopy bits of string. A proton can be seen as a box containing a set of 3 additional boxes (quarks) all giggling about. Is it the combined vibrations of all those sub-components, boxes within boxes including the space between boxes being shaken about, that shapes an atom’s geometry making the structure that we see as a carbon atom?

Think of a boxed system made with elastic walls, like balloons of water that vibrate, all held together with a field; the strong nuclear force, also known as strong interaction. As each balloon vibrates, they rub against the local space and in some circumstances one another. Their jiggling within a confined space creates their composition, which in turn shapes their configuration, their geometry and shapes the permeating waves of energy outside that balloon acting like a force.

Like throwing a stone into a still pond, those vibrations ripple out and transmit, through the balloon’s membrane. As the vibrations ripple out of each balloon’s shell, they interact like ripples on a pond with multiple stones being thrown in, where waves vibrations clash against one another, creating interference patterns. Collectively all of these vibrations form the energy signature we know as the atom carbon-12.

Each atom has its own unique frequency and consequently appears different. It is this unique set of different vibration patterns, their frequency, that shapes the geometry for each different elementary particle, sub-atomic particle, atom, collection of atoms… that ultimately shapes their geometry and in turn describes a distinctive structure for matter; this is what constitutes the different elements and helps to shape time.

New Scientist reported in issue 2772, pp28-31, 7th August 2010, (cover story) The end of Space-time: Rethinking Einstein, that a group of research physicists took graphene (a 1 atom layer of graphite) and placed it into a Bose-Einstine condensate state; a temperature near absolute zero. They noticed something strange happening. Further experiments were run in computer simulated models and to their surprise, they discovered that at a distance (macro), space-time behaves as prescribed in Lorentz symmetry. However looking at space-time with a quanta level (micro) perspective, they noticed that time plays a far greater role than space.

Consider the following: is time (interchangeable with a spatial dimension in General Relativity,) the very composite vibrations of those discrete building blocks of matter? Or to put it another way, when one looks at a quantum level, does time play a far greater role because we are looking more closely at the vibrations of matter representing ghostly echos of time itself?

If these composite vibrations is what shapes an atom and in turn an element, (a box within a box within another box, that creates the geometric structure of what we see,) then by looking in closely at the structure of matter, are we seeing a temporal component of matter? And is it those same quantum fluctuations that make space-time what it is?

Could this also help to explain phenomena such as electrons being able to be in two places at once, or Carbon-60 atoms being able to go through a two slit experiment? To get even weirder, if you supercooled (to near absolute zero) or superheated (to many thousands of degrees) matter, it becomes more active. Matter vibrates more, with greater frequency and vigour. Is this increased vibration the effect of additional oscillations jiggling the box or balloon of matter, feeding into its space additional vibrations and becoming part of the box-within-a-box system or even permeate the box’s shell?

Think of a small pond, with water filled balloons floating inside. However these water filled balloons also contain smaller subsets of water filled balloons within. Then think of throwing in a pebble or two into the pond. The oscillations will shape the internal geometry of the pond and affect the position of the balloons as well as their internal structure. Then start throwing in lots of pebbles into the pond, adding more energy into the system. Resonance may occur within some of the balloons within balloons. The frequency of not only how many pebbles are being thrown in but where they are being thrown into the pond will shape its geometry, like ripples in space-time.

Do these ghost like properties tell us more than just the amount of energy contained within a quantum of something; are these ghost echos revealing the clockwork mechanics of the Universe?