Suppose the results stand up and are confirmed by another lab. Does that mean special relativity is wrong? Not necessarily. Special relativity does not forbid all faster-than-light travel. It only forbids faster-than-light travel for particles with mass that start out traveling under the speed of light. This is because the equations of special relativity indicate it would take an infinite amount of energy to accelerate a particle with mass through the speed of light. However, if a particle with mass is created with an initial velocity greater than the speed of light, that is not a problem. Indeed, scientists even have a name for such a particle – the tachyon. The particle is hypothetical, of course, but it is consistent with special relativity.Read the rest here.
The “neutrinos” being detected are formed in collisions between high-energy protons and stationary carbon atoms. While we think we understand the reaction that produces these neutrinos, it could be that there is something unexpected going on in the reaction, and that effect is causing particles to be produced with an initial velocity that is faster than the speed of light. As a result, the particles being detected aren’t neutrinos at all. Instead, they are some form of tachyon.
In the end, then, this is a very interesting result, but I seriously doubt it will be confirmed. If confirmed, it doesn’t necessarily mean that special relativity is wrong. It could mean that we have finally detected the elusive tachyon! That would be quite amazing, since our current understanding of physics says that we shouldn’t be able to detect tachyons with the OPERA detector. Of course, our current understanding of physics also says that special relativity is inconsistent with neutrinos moving faster than the speed of light.
Saturday, September 24, 2011
At least one thing can travel faster than the speed of light, and it's not KY Gov. Steve Beshear running away from a debate
Jay Wile wonders: do the results of the recent experiment at CERN on neutrinos traveling faster than the speed of light necessarily overturn Einstein's special theory of relativity?