by Ed Berry, PhD, Physics
Republished by The Daily Inter Lake, October 2, 2011. Article Image
There was a young lady named Bright,
Who could travel much faster than light.
She went traveling one day, in a relative way,
And returned on the previous night.
This poem, well-known to every physics student, represents an implication of being able to exceed the speed of light. Ever since Einstein’s remarkable breakthrough in discovering “relativity” it has been a given in physics that it is impossible for anything to travel faster than light.
It is an easy calculation in relativistic physics to show an object’s mass will increase toward infinity as the object approaches the speed of light. With such a large, increasing mass, no finite force can accelerate the object to the speed of light … or so says today’s physics.
Until recently, no experiment has measured speeds faster than light, and physics is based totally upon data. Theories are nice, but they must pass the tests of the scientific method in order to be accepted as possibly true. But as Albert Einstein himself said, “Many experiments may prove me right, but it takes only one experiment to prove me wrong.”
Has this experiment proved Einstein wrong?
We may not know for a few years. But based upon the preliminary data from CERN, Einstein has been proven to be wrong. No physicist is making this claim yet because there is a century of data showing the accuracy of Einstein’s relativity and the implications of finding speeds faster than light are much too significant to physics to be taken lightly (pun intended).
The experiment, repeated by CERN physicists many times over the last 3 years, shows subatomic particles known as neutrinos traveled faster than light. The experiment was originally intended to measure how neutrinos change form while traveling the 732 km distance from the CERN laboratory in Switzerland to the Gran Sasso laboratory in Italy. The unintended byproduct of the experiment was finding the neutrinos arrived in Italy sooner than they should have according to Einstein’s Theory of Relativity.
The experiment, headed by Dr. Antonio Ereditato, is known as the Opera collaboration. The experimental data are statistically significant. CERN physicists spent the last 3 years trying to find an error in their experiment. They cannot. Therefore, they have released their experimental data to the world to see if other physicists can find an error. These are good physicists and CERN is not your average garage experiment.
The most probable result of further study is an error will be found in the experiment. The less probable result is no error will be found and the experiment will be duplicated in other physics laboratories. Should this less probable result prevail, then our world will be much different in a few decades.
The history of physics shows it takes about 20 to 30 years for a physics breakthrough in the laboratory to make its way into commercial production. In the 1960s, lasers, as one example, were experiments in physics laboratories around the world. At that time, lasers required a mechanism as large as a desk backed up by noisy vacuum pumps. We all know where lasers are today: almost everywhere.
One may reasonably ask, “Is such a small speed increase over the speed of light really significant?” The answer is Yes. Just a small amount will require significantly revising the theories of physics. These new theories will generate new predictions that can lead to significant breakthroughs in our knowledge of nature.
Read the poem above again and try to imagine your future should this CERN experiment truly show it is possible to exceed the speed of light.