There was a young lady named Bright,
Whose speed was far faster than light;
She started one day
In a relative way,
And returned on the previous night.
The above Limerick of A. H. Reginald Buller FRSC, FRS which appeared in Punch on the 19th December, 1923 would appear to offer a possible explanation to the potentially very important news that muon neutrinos sent 454 miles from the CERN (the European Organization for Nuclear Research outside Geneva) particle accelerator to Italy’s Ran Sass National Laboratory (an underground laboratory at Gran Sasso) MIGHT have arrived as tau neutrinos 60 nanoseconds earlier than expected thus breaking the supposedly unbreakable speed limit that is the speed of light.
You will note Dear Reader that we have capitalised the word might as there could very well be a very simple explanation for this apparent ground breaking discovery: the scientists got their timings wrong.
Of course the CERN scientists have thought of this and have been studiously checking and rechecking to find out where the discrepancy lay.
The CERN scientists have asked the Fermilab outside Chicago to try and replicate the results. Fermilab scientists met yesterday about verifying the European study and said their particle beam is already up and running. The only trouble is that their measuring systems aren’t nearly as precise as CERN’s and won’t be upgraded for a while, according to Fermilab physicist, Dr. Robert Plunkett.
“This thing is so important many of the normal scientific rivalries fall by the wayside,” said Dr Plunkett, “Everybody is going to be looking at every piece of information.”
Dr. Plunkett said he is keeping an open mind on whether Einstein’s theories need an update, but he added: “It’s dangerous to lay odds against Einstein. Einstein has been tested repeatedly over and over again.”
Going faster than light is something that is just not supposed to happen according to Einstein’s 1905 Special Theory of Relativity – the one made famous by the equation E equals mc2. The speed of light – 186,282 miles per second has long been considered an absolute speed limit.
Professor Jenny Thomas, of University College London, says the claims, if proven true, would call into question our very understanding of physics and the universe.
She said: “It would turn everything on its head. It is too awful to think about. The basic thing it that would be questioned is that there is an absolute speed limit which is the basis of special relativity and that is a huge building block of modern physics. It permeates everything to do with how we have modelled the universe and everything. It would be very hard to predict what the effects would be.”
As mentioned, CERN’s results will be checked by scientists across the globe including at Fermilab, where a similar experiment known as Minos is based when the measuring systems have been upgraded.
Professor Thomas – the co-spokesperson for the Minos project – said the team had thrown up similar results several years ago but had discounted them because the possible margin of error was too high.
She said: “Our errors were rather large so we dismissed it. Nothing is further from your belief than that the results might be correct. When I heard about the CERN results my first thought was that they must be wrong, there must be something they have not taken into account.”
Potential errors could occur in the measurement of distance between the point the particle was created and where it was detected; the time it took to travel from one point to the other; or in the structure of the accelerator which the whole measurement relies upon.
Professor Thomas added: “I think everyone is sceptical. The scientists themselves have admitted they are sceptical but they cannot see what they have done wrong. We will repeat our experiment with higher precision, hopefully in the next six months.”
The Fermilab team will then begin a second stage of their experiment, called Minos Plus, which is even more similar to the CERN trial and will deliver results accurate to one nanosecond.
The question that many are asking is this: If the Minos Plus results confirm the apparent faster than light speed, what are the implications?
This is where the British Gazette (admittedly no authority on particle physics) would suggest that a possible but seemingly extraordinary explanation is that these muon neutrinos that arrived as tau neutrinos began to travel backwards in time, and that this might be the cause of their change of state – from muon to tau.
To put some figures to this (and we apologise for using SI measurements) the speed of light is 299,792,458 mtrs/second and the apparent speed of the particles was 300,006,000 mtrs/second due to their arrival 60 nanoseconds earlier than expected. If it is the case that the particles travelled back in time by 60 nanoseconds this is of course a fundamental discovery because it will demonstrate that it is possible to travel backwards in time – at least for some types of sub atomic particle.
Whilst the time travel in the various “Sci-Fi” dramas is clearly fanciful hokum, does this open up the possibility – in the future – of faster-than-light communication? Although the prospect – commonly seen in these “Sci-Fi” dramas of humans travelling to other solar systems – and meeting aliens that speak English with very convincing Californian accents – is clearly fanciful hokum, could it be possible to communicate by sub atomic particle – as opposed to the radio wave’s electro-magnetic waves – with planets orbiting distant stars?
Indeed, if “backwards in time messaging” is possible, might not more advanced civilisations be already using this as a method of interstellar communication? Could it be that scientists might one day discover how to “hack in” to this network and begin to communicate?
If so it is verily to be hoped that the nonsensical beliefs of Anthropogenic Global Warming and CO2 being a hazardous substance are consigned to the history book – along with the Flat Earth theory. It would be simply too embarrassing to have such as Mr Chris Huhne sat at a computer terminal typing in;
“….Dear Little Green Persons [the term “Men” being sexist],
Could you kindly advise how we can reduce our CO2 emissions…….”