General Question

Ltryptophan's avatar

Can you get me up to date on Neutrinos and their potential for unseating the speed of light as highest known speed?

Asked by Ltryptophan (12091points) September 23rd, 2011

Is it really possible that E=MC 2 is not accurate??

What would it mean if neutrinos are really faster than light?

What novel changes could we expect?

Any jellie physcists want to share their insight?

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27 Answers

rebbel's avatar

What novel changes could we expect?

We’d see an increase of “Which era would you go to now that it is possible to travel in time” questions.

Qingu's avatar

It’s extremely, EXTREMELY doubtful that e=mc^2 is not accurate. Even if the neutrinos really are going faster than light!

What would it mean? That depends on what neutrinos are. They are one of the most mysterious particles in our particle bestiary. For a long time, physicists thought neutrinos had no mass (and so were sort of like particles of light). Then they found out something really weird about neutrinos: they spontaneously change between three different “flavors”—electron, muon, and tau.

In order for neutrinos to “flavor oscillate,” they should have mass. But they still travel close to the speed of light. So their mass must be really small. Or at least that’s what physicists thought! As you can see from the equation, mass is closely related to light speed. And what’s really weird (to me, at least—I could be getting this wrong) the three neutrinos have different masses! So a neutrino seems to be able to spontaneously change its mass between three figures. (Although we don’t actually know if the different kinds have different masses). This flavor oscillation is apparently a quantum mechanical effect so I’m not going to pretend to understand what little we do understand about it.

If neutrinos really are traveling faster than light, I think the most novel change we’ll see will be a better understanding of just WTF neutrinos are and how they work. But as many people have pointed out, it’s extremely premature to conclude that they even are traveling faster than light. It could well be a measurement error.

Note: come to think of it, we still don’t even understand how mass works, or what it is, exactly. That’s what all the fuss over the Higgs boson is about. It seems to me like these two mysteries might be related.

Ltryptophan's avatar

I mean, what else can we “race” against light?? Was this clocking of neutrino speed intended or an inadvertent discovery while trying to learn more about the neutrino’s behavior. Do neutrino’s move in waves?

Just a cursory glance at wikipedia suggests that Neutrino telescopes are sweeeeeeet….

lillycoyote's avatar

And the BBC has a pretty good article on the findings too.

The CERN team knows the findings are pretty dramatic and possibly could change “the game” dramatically so they are presenting their work to the larger scientific community to try to find out if any mistakes have been made that they have no uncovered themselves.

Blackberry's avatar

I wonder what would happen if the scientific community just flat out said this was a fact and did not request anymore scrutiny or further research…?

ragingloli's avatar

it would become a religion

lillycoyote's avatar

@Blackberry That simply wouldn’t happen though. The “scientific community” is, obviously, made of scientists and that’s not how science is done. The notion, the necessity of reproducibility is one of the fundamental tenets of the scientific method. And peer review is also essential part of the field. Scientists, en masse, simply don’t take someone’s word for something.

Blackberry's avatar

@lillycoyote I was just joshin’ ya, but thanks :)

lillycoyote's avatar

@Blackberry LOL. I can be a little overly earnest sometimes, can’t I?

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PhiNotPi's avatar

I have heard that there are several things that this could mean. The third is the most interesting, in my opinion.

1) The neutrinos have truly zero mass.

2) They travel into an extra dimension and pop out somewhere else. They would not be traveling any faster, but would be short-cutting through normal space.

3) They are not affected by gravity. Light is affected by gravity, and the warping of space-time causes it to travel through a curved path. If neutrinos are not affected by gravity, they would travel through a straighter, shorter path and arrive faster.

hiphiphopflipflapflop's avatar

I remember reading a while back in an article by a physicist who moonlighted as a science fiction author that several experiments designed to measure the mass of the neutrino were tending to end up with a slightly negative value (though zero and tiny positive values remained within the range of the error bar) for the measured squared mass, which would imply the possibility of an imaginary rest mass for the neutrino. I will need to dig out the anthology I found that article in.

Mariah's avatar

@PhiNotPi, is light only affected by gravity due to gravity’s warping of space-time, or is it actually acted on by the force of gravity? I can’t quite make that second possibility make sense in my head since light has no mass. Please let me know if I’m just not understanding or if I’m not making sense. Physics enthusiast here, but also a bit of a physics noob.

I also think your second possibility is intriguing, as it’s remniscent of the idea of “folding space” that some people (mostly sci-fi authors) have suggested as possible ways to get farther faster than the speed of light will allow.

hiphiphopflipflapflop's avatar

@Mariah “gravity’s warping of space-time” and “acted on by the force of gravity” are one and the same as far as I understand it. I’ve heard general relativity summed up as “mass tells spacetime how to curve and spacetime tells mass how to move”.

Mariah's avatar

@hiphiphopflipflapflop I thought that might be the case. Thank you. My apologies if this is a dumb question, but I just want to make sure I’m understanding correctly. When, say, a baseball falls to the earth, this happens solely due to the fact that earth has warped space-time? I was confused about the idea that massless light could be affected by gravity because I was thinking of F=GmM/r^2 but now that I think about it, that equation was rendered not entirely accurate by Einstein’s work, wasn’t it?

hiphiphopflipflapflop's avatar

The corrections you get in changing from Newton’s theory to Einstein’s General Relativity in terms of predicted behavior of astronomical objects tend to be subtle in all but extreme cases. People only began to notice something was amiss with the precession of the perihelion of Mercury in 1859. (Click here for a animated .gif showing orbital precession)

But in abstract terms, the whole Newtonian picture gets thrown out the window when you make the leap to General Relativity. No longer do you think in terms of one object generating a force upon another (and vice-versa) instanteously and over a distance (something which actually rather disturbed Newton the more he thought about it). Absolute space and absolute time are gone too. Objects in freefall follow geodesic curves in spacetime, which is modeled as a four-dimensional pseudo-Riemannian manifold. The equations are totally different.

So yeah, the Earth warps spacetime around it due to its mass. Since the Earth’s surface prevents you from following its natural path down to the core, you can feel it pushing back up at you. Extend your arm out and you find it necessary to exert force to keep it from falling down to your side. You can feel the pull through your shoulder even when you let it hang to your side. Your hand “wants” to travel down to the core too and the way the forces are transfered though your body coming up from the support given to us by the Earth is what we feel as weight. Now step into an elevator within an evacuated shaft and cut the rope. In freefall this sensation of weight disappears. The same thing happens in orbit (so long as you stay at the spacecraft’s center of mass… going away from it you will start to notice tidal effects).

That’s my understanding, but let me warn you I’ve not taken a course on general relativity and had my grasp of it challenged by a professional. As to what happens when you think in terms of a nominal quantum theory of gravity I’m not sure how the “picture” changes either. I think I had that in my mind when I qualified my answer the first time.

And I think this the longest I’ve ever taken to compose a Fluther response! :p

flutherother's avatar

“We don’t allow faster-than-light neutrinos in here,” says the barman. A neutrino walks into a bar.

flutherother's avatar

It made me smile. I thought I would share.

Response moderated (Unhelpful)
mattbrowne's avatar

Could neutrinos take a slight shortcut in 10-dimensional space?

mattbrowne's avatar

@hiphiphopflipflapflop – Thanks for that. Should we be relieved or disappointed?

mattbrowne's avatar

@hiphiphopflipflapflop – Yeah, like Schroedinger’s cat ;-)

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