A few weeks ago the world was rocked by the announcement that scientists had discovered something which went faster than the speed of light. That was a big deal because, all the laws of physics we know and hold dear, say that faster than light (FTL) travel is utterly impossible.
It was such big news that even the scientists who discovered it were hesitant to believe it, and at the time they cautioned everyone not to jump to any conclusions, as they engaged in further testing to confirm their findings. Maybe they’d just forgotten to carry a one or something. It has now been more than a month, and even though no one really wants to accept that this has happened (since it would change everything we know about physics), they still haven’t been able to find a concrete flaw in these crazy FTL conclusions.
The latest news is that scientists still think this must just be some mistake in calculation, but no one has been able to find the mistake. Discover Magazine has run several articles, for instance, with that as the tone but even there they haven’t really come up with a definitive explanation to brush off the findings of CERN, the guys who originally discovered the FTL neutrinos.
Basically what happened in the original experiment is this: Neutrinos were sent from one point, to another. We know that, if they were traveling at the speed of light or under it, they should have arrived at their destination in 2.4 milliseconds or more, an incredibly short period of time. But somehow, the neutrinos arrived 60 nanoseconds early. That is of course an almost infinitesimal difference, yet if true then those neutrinos traveled faster than the speed of light.
The top theory among scientists trying to debunk the notion of FTL travel by neutrinos involves looking for errors in the way the CERN team calculated the time involved. That’s reasonable since we’re dealing with such tiny, tiny units of measurement. It’s easy to make a mistake under those circumstances. Some for instance, think they may have failed to figure in the relative movement of GPS satellites rotating Earth, which were used to measure the time involved. Except, the CERN team’s original announcement says they took these things into account. Right now the debate seems to be over whether or not they really did, and once that gets sorted out it’ll surely be on to the next attempt at debunking their findings.
And that’s good. This is how science is supposed to work. When a scientist discovers something new, it’s tested, it’s picked apart, and everyone works to determine the veracity of it. The next time someone accuses science of being a religion, point them to CERN and their FTL neutrinos. No one’s taking their findings at face value, but for now, more than a month in, they haven’t actually disproven them yet either. Faster than light travel? Maybe it’s possible. Maybe not. No one’s taking it on faith, instead science will continue to study this for years before reaching any sort of conclusion. We’ll be here to update you, when they reach one.