Friday, November 25, 2011

For now, neutrino calculations holding, 11.25.11

Scientists at Cern have validated some of their calculations regarding neutrinos, tiny particles that they think can travel faster than light. We say that with some uncertainty, though, because as soon as the Opera (Oscillation Project with Emulsion [T]racking Apparatus) collaboration published their findings regarding the particles, physicists started desperately trying to find as many flaws in the experiment as possible.
Why is that? Well, physics, and all the disciplines that rely on it, have many of their baseline calculations and formulas based on the idea that nothing can travel faster than the speed of light. This is especially important to astronomers, because calculating how long light has to travel before we are able to see it from Earth is one of the main ways they figure out approximately how old stars are and how far away they are in space. If all of those calculations are suddenly proved fundamentally flawed, well…everything would have to change. If the findings at Cern are eventually proven true, most of the scientific community will have to undergo a complete overhaul in the way they think and conduct their calculations.
As soon as the earliest results were published in September (with some trepidation—the scientists conducting the experiments are practically begging other facilities around the world to do what they can to try to test the experiments to see what sort of results they get), a laundry list of possible flaws with the experiment has started to form. One of the largest problems has just been tested, and the original results have held.
The idea was that the bunches of neutrinos that are tested would have produced different results based on their string size, or the number of neutrinos that are used at one time during the experiment. To test this, the scientists at Cern ran their experiments at least 20 more times with smaller test sizes, and the original results have still held true. There are still many, many more experiments that need to be conducted to be able to say once and for all that there are some things that can travel faster than light, but for now, one more step has been made in that direction.
 Credit: BBC News Science & Environment.

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