Reality and the speed of light

As I go about my everyday life, I am always on the lookout  for interesting scientific snippets. This includes anything which may help to throw light on the cosmological clues to reality.  Last month the Daily Mail ran an article called “Einstein wrong again!” This intrigued me, and that week I also  recorded  a science programme which dealt with the same matter. In these limbo days between Christmas and New Year I looked again at both. Very interesting!!!!!

The science programme was a BBC 2 special called “Faster than the speed of light?”. In this Professor Marcus du Sautoy explores the claims by a team working in an underground physics lab in Gran Sasso, in the Italian Alps. They claimed that a batch of neutrinos that they were studying, actually were shown to have travelled faster than the speed of light.  The programme was a delight, as all the science and theories involved were explained in clear, understandable, detail. What follows is brief summary of what was explained, and what this may mean for reality.

Special Relativity

Over 100 years ago, Albert Einstein published his theory of special relativity. At its core, this proposed that particles of light always  travel at the same speed, where ever you are in the Universe. The corollary to this is very counter intuitive. As I understand it, this means if you are travelling at speed, the light cannot travel any faster. If the speed of light is fixed , them the only variable that can be altered is time. Therefore the faster you travel, the slower time runs. On a daily basis this would be too small to be detectable.

Energy = Mass

The other complicating factor is that  everything in the universe, including us, is made from atoms. Atoms, themselves  are constructed from sub atomic energy particles.  Einstein equates energy with mass. As we travel we acquire energy, therefore logically we acquire mass. As anything moves faster towards the speed of light, picking up energy, it acquires more mass. Allegedly, the equations show that as one reaches the speed of light, one has infinite energy thus infinite mass. Therefore nothing with mass can go faster than the speed of light. This is where the Daily Mail got it completely wrong, as it said that “Nothing can travel faster than light in a vacuum because its particles have no mass”!!!!!

Neutrinos and speed

The teeny tiny neutrino  particles, the scientists in Gran Sasso have been looking at, are three of the sixteen basic fundamental particles in the universe. They are so small they cannot be easily detected. They are also so small that they pass through our atomic structure easily.  They do however have a very small amount of mass. This means they should not be able to travel faster than the speed of light.

Detection

They can be detected only when they collide with the nucleus of the heavier particles of elements like lead. Gran Sasso arranged for the Large Hadron Collider  to send a beam of neutrinos, through the earth, to their detection array. They wanted to measure their speed of travel. To their surprise they arrived faster than they should have. They seemed to have travelled faster than light.

Consequences

Consternation reigned.  If this was true then much of what was believed about the universe would have to be re-thought. They did not believe their own results.The experiment was repeated and repeated and they asked everyone to find out where they had made a mistake.

Aspects of reality

This is fascinating for our thoughts on aspects of reality. If it is true, it opens up many strange possibilities, such as time travel. Some even  think that it is a possibility that the neutrinos jumped, and took a short cut though, other dimensions.   This then  may give more credence to string theory and Brane theory.   There is much doubt about the experiment’s  accuracy among the scientific community. More experiments continue,  definitely a topic to be watched.

 

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