Thursday, September 22, 2011

Einstein Blows It Again With Pesky Neutrinos

CERN, a scientific research lab near Geneva reported that a neutrino beam fired from a particle accelerator near Geneva to a lab 454 miles (730 kilometers) away in Italy traveled 60 nanoseconds faster than the speed of light. Scientists calculated the margin of error at just 10 nanoseconds. (A nanosecond is one-billionth of a second.) Holy bologna!

Given the enormous implications of the find, the researchers spent months checking and rechecking their results to make sure there were no flaws in the experiment. They consumed 840 bottles of Chianti during the research.

A team at Fermilab had similar faster-than-light results in 2007, but a large margin of error undercut its scientific significance because researches there were drinking vodka.

If anything is going to throw a cosmic twist into Einstein's theories, it's not surprising that it's the strange particles known as neutrinos. These are odd slivers of an atom that have confounded physicists for about 80 years and led to numerous cases of alcoholism among researchers.

The neutrino has almost no mass, comes in three different "flavors," may have its own antiparticle and has been seen shifting from one flavor to another while shooting out from our sun, said physicist Phillip Schewe, communications director at the Joint Quantum Institute in Maryland.

Columbia University physicist Brian Greene, author of the book "Fabric of the Cosmos," said neutrinos theoretically can travel at different speeds depending on how much energy they have. And some mysterious particles whose existence is still only theorized could be similarly speedy, he said.

Fermilab team spokeswoman Jenny Thomas, a physics professor at the University College of London, said there must be a "more mundane explanation" for the European findings. She said Fermilab's experience showed how hard it is to measure accurately the distance, time and angles required for such a claim.

Nevertheless, Fermilab, which shoots neutrinos from Chicago to Minnesota, has already begun working to try to verify or knock down the new findings.

And that's exactly what the team in Geneva wants.

Gillies told The Associated Press that the readings have so astounded researchers that "they are inviting the broader physics community to look at what they've done and really scrutinize it in great detail, and ideally for someone elsewhere in the world to repeat the measurements."

Alcoholic beverage producers are offering millions for continuing research, saying the speedy little neutrinos have proved to be a shot in the arm for the alcohol industry.

No pictures of the neutrinos are available because they cannot be seen or photographed. They are too tiny and too fast. No one can be certain they even exist which makes the measurement of their speed even more difficult.

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