Twitter Offers Alternate Explanations For “Faster Than Light” Neutrinos

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Researchers at CERN in Geneva released the results from a recent experiment (full paper here) that suggested neutrinos can travel faster than light, which would be contrary to Einstein’s Theory of Relativity. Neutrinos are a subatomic particle with extremely low mass.  So low, in fact, that physicists often calculate their expected behavior by plugging in the speed of light as their approximate speed. But, when CERN created some neutrinos (I think they used Jello mix) and the OPERA detector in Gran Sasso, Italy, detected them, they found that these neutrinos had arrived 60 nanoseconds faster than the speed of light (with an estimated 10 nanosecond margin of error).

There is reason for skepticism, however. As Phil Plait points out, if their measurement of the distance between CERN in Switzerland and OPERA in Italy is off by 20 meters or more, that would account for a 60 ns or greater margin of error in measuring the speed of light. They used a GPS to measure the distance, and my dad’s GPS tried to drive him into a lake, so yeah. Also, they would need to determine exactly when the neutrinos were created down to a fraction of a nanosecond. Plait points out another reason for skepticism:

If neutrinos travel faster than light, then we should’ve detected the neutrinos from Supernova 1987A before we saw the explosion itself. […] The neutrinos from SN1987A traveled so far that had they been moving that much faster than light, they would’ve arrived here almost four years before the light did. However, we saw the light from the supernova at roughly the same time as the neutrinos. [BadAstronomy]

Twitter also offered several completely rational explanations for findings with the #mundaneneutrinoexplanations hashtag. On the next page we’ve got our favorite explanations, but first, a point / counterpoint:

[Sources: BadAstronomy, ArsTechnica, Guardian, XKCD, BoingBoing, Twitter, Reddit, LATFG]

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