The Speed of Light Revisited

In the December 2011 issue of Acts & Facts, I reported that recent experiments in Europe showed that neutrinos can travel faster than the speed of light.1 The OPERA (Oscillation Project with Emulsion tRacking Apparatus) researchers at CERN (European Centre for Nuclear Research) laboratory reported that Einstein’s limit on the speed of light had been broken.2 Although many in the group were skeptical of the results, they decided to report them after unsuccessful efforts to find any errors in their experiment.

However, in March 2012 the ICARUS experiment (Imaging Cosmic and Rare Underground Signals) refuted the OPERA results that neutrinos travel faster than the speed of light. ICARUS is a second international team of scientists who operate at CERN. They used the same neutrino beam and found that the neutrino energy distribution for the ICARUS events agreed with the expectations of an unperturbed spectrum and corresponded with particles traveling at the speed of light and no more.3 They also argued that the neutrinos would have lost most of their energy if they had travelled at even a tiny fraction faster than the speed of light.

The OPERA team now reports that a faulty connector and an oscillator in a global positioning system used to provide time stamps could have led scientists to incorrectly estimate the neutrinos’ times of flight. Many scientists were skeptical about the original measurements that contradicted Albert Einstein’s 1905 Special Theory of Relativity. The theory states that nothing in the universe can travel faster than the speed of light, an assertion that underpins much of modern physics and cosmology. Additional experiments are likely to be conducted to check and double-check the results.

Scientists were also critical of the OPERA project for releasing their results prematurely. “Edward Blucher, chairman of the Department of Physics at the University of Chicago, said the original finding would have been breathtaking if it had been true….‘Maybe they should have waited a few more months [to release them],’ he added.”4

References

  1. Vardiman, L. 2011. Has Einstein’s Limit on the Speed of Light Been Broken? Acts & Facts. 40 (12): 22-23.
  2. Adams, T. et al. 2011. Measurement of the neutrino velocity with OPERA detector in the CNGS beam. arXiv:1109.4897v1.
  3. Antonello, M. et al. 2012. A search for the analogue to Cherenkov radiation by high energy neutrinos at superluminal speeds in ICARUS. arXiv:1110.3763v3.
  4. Could Einstein be right after all? Scientists admit errors in ‘relativity-busting’ test. Reuters, February 23, 2012.

Image credit: CERN Neutrino Accelerator.

* Dr. Vardiman is Senior Research Scientist, Astro/Geophysics at the Institute for Creation Research.

Cite this article: Vardiman, L. 2012. Speed of Light Revisited. Acts & Facts. 41 (5): 18.

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