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October 01, 2011

Science Odyssey: Neutrinos Caught Speeding?

by Clay Farris Naff

800px-CERN_LHC_Tunnel1The data collected by Italian physicists monitoring neutrinos streaming out of a particle collider at CERN were so strange that even they cannot quite believe them. It appears that the tiny particles are exceeding the speed of light. If true, this would mean that something's not quite right with Einstein's theory of relativity.

To learn about the experiment and its implications, we talk with Associate Professor of Physics Chad Orzel of Union College and Distinguished Professor of Theoretical Physics Alan Kostelecky of Indiana University. Orzel is author of the popular book How to Teach Physics to Your Dog. Kostelecky coauthored a paper decades ago that predicted the possibility of a faster-than-light neutrino.

Fast Neutrinos, Part 1

Fast Neutrinos, Part 2

Clay Farris Naff is (claynaff.com) is a science author and blogger whose weekly radio program, Science Odyssey, airs Saturday mornings from 8:30 to 9 a.m. CST on KZUM, Lincoln's community radio station. You can hear it over the air at 89.3 FM or on the web live at kzum.org. Clay's science and religion blog on the Huffington Post can be seen here.



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great show, clay.

i'm wondering if you've heard of the idea of not actually moving faster than light but, instead, the ability to significantly reduce the distance traveled by an object and therefore give the appearence of moving faster than einstein's speed limit.

if i remember correctly, this idea arose in relation to the fact that, although mind-blowingly fast, space is so expansive that, limited to 186k miles/sec., we will never really get to explore much of it at all. analogously, being limited to the speed of light, would limit our cosmic exporatory radius to something like the distance between omaha and lincoln.

what was presented to ponder was the concept of a spaceship that really didn't 'move' at all but, rather one that consumed/absorbed space. have you heard of this concept... whadaya think.

thanks for the great topics - brian

I have heard of the ideas you bring up, though I must admit that I have only a glancing familiarity with them. The evidence for cosmic inflation - the idea that the Universe doubled in size many times over in a fraction of a second, vastly exceeding the speed of light - seems to be well established now. As I understand it, the superluminal expansion of space remains a possibility, and some have speculated on a ship that would take advantage of that phenomenon. There is also the more familiar warp travel, which if possible at all would involve a white hole connecting distant parts of space, sort of like bringing the two sleeves of a jacket together.

However, all of these ideas are consistent with Einstein's theory, because they do not involve massive particles traveling *through* spacetime at or above the speed of light. (There is an exception for the hypothetical tachyon, a particle that would *always* travel faster than light. That is what Prof. Kostelecky conjectured a certain kind of neutrino might do. We'll see if he's right.) Space is allowed to expand *between* particles at any speed. If all of this seems crazy, well, no one said science is intuitive, and the final theory hasn't been written yet.

Thanks for listening and commenting!

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