Friday, September 23, 2011

CERN's neutrinos - kudos to the BBC coverage

Amidst a flurry of sensational coverage, the BBC gets special credit for the headline and the quote (emphases mine) ...

BBC News - Speed-of-light experiments give baffling result at Cern:

... Puzzling results from Cern, home of the Large Hadron Collider, have confounded physicists because subatomic particles seem to have beaten the speed of light...

...But for now, he explained, "we are not claiming things, we want just to be helped by the community in understanding our crazy result - because it is crazy".

"Speed of light" is the right headline, not "faster than light". The quote is important too -- they are not claiming things.

It's hard to overstate how outrageous a result this is. By comparison the "cold fusion" claims of 1989 were prosaic. There are many experimental conditions in which various things propagate faster than the speed of light in a vacuum, but those experiments are all consistent with the universe as we model it.

This result is not consistent with our models. True "faster than light" travel implies "causality violation"; a form of time travel where effect precedes cause.

Just based on how science works, rather than any knowledge of physics, I would give 90% odds that this result does not last a month, and 99.9% odds that when all is done the speed of light will survive. Despite that, there is a good chance of normally interesting physics somewhere in there.

If the results hold up, of course, a Nobel would be the least of it.

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