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The hundred and seventy nine researchers who have dared put their names on the paper forthcoming in The Journal of High Energy Physics, which reports on the results of the so-called OPERA experiment on neutrino velocity, are audibly nervous. They write:

“In conclusion, despite the large significance of the measurement reported here and the robustness of the analysis, the potentially great impact of the result motivates the continuation of our studies in order to investigate possible still unknown systematic effects that could explain the observed anomaly. We deliberately do not attempt any theoretical or phenomenological interpretation of the results.”

Indeed, reading CERN scientists in press announcements or blogs one almost gets the feeling they want to be proved wrong. This is because, if the experiment is independently confirmed, it might be necessary to re-think a number of theories, including some of physic’s holy cows like Einstein’s theory of special relativity, which posits that the speed of light appears constant and there is nothing faster. That is, of course, exciting but it is also a bit scary.

Neutrinos have been a cause of concern for some time. For one, they are pretty tiny. They are only affected by the weak nuclear force and gravity. They travel through matter, including our bodies, unnoticed. They come in different ‘flavors’ called tau, electron and muon. Their flavor can change, a phenomenon known as oscillation. They appear to only spin anti-clockwise … and they might have something to do with the dark matter that makes up our universe.

OPERA began as an experiment into the oscillation of neutrinos and instead it is detecting muons spilling faster than light. The first experiment was carried out in September. It was repeated in October and found actually a mistake in the first round—and still there were little muons beating light!

As reported by the ‘Periscope Post‘, the most popular interpretation of the result is that this is proof that we can travel back in time. A more cautious, but no less adventurous one, thrown in by Heinrich Päs, who recently published a book on neutrinos entitled The Perfect Wave,  is that the neutrinos are cheating space-time by making use of the other dimensions available to the universe (and postulated by the so-called M theory of everything … see earlier post here).

In the end, it probably comes down to the same thing but I would tend to f(l)avor the trickster theory. It’s sort of reassuring to know you can even cheat on the speed of light.

Exciting times indeed!