Sunday, September 25, 2011

Tachyonic Neutrinos?


Other bloggers who understand particle physics much better than me have doubtlessly already waxed eloquent about the recently leaked observation from CERN that some neutrinos may have moved faster than light. Now since all the evidence points to the fact that neutrinos have a tiny mass (without which they couldn't oscillate between the electron, muon, and tau flavors), they should move a tiny bit slower than light. Except, from what I understand, they've always been observed moving at exactly C, or just a bit faster (but heretofore always so slightly faster that it could be explained away as either an artifact of the detection equipment or a negligible quantum effect that doesn't really violate causality).

But no longer. Now the variance is too big to just write it off as a quantum phenomenon, and the data from the experiment are (apparently) too consistent to just assume equipment or human error... just yet. The jury's still out, of course, which is the great thing about science. Something this ground-breaking means that all involved want to be damned sure that the phenomenon is real, and that the experiment can be replicated. But wouldn't it be so freaking awesome if it turns out that neutrinos really are massive particles that just plain ordinarily move faster-than-light --- which would make them bona fide tachyons? (My intuition says that this isn't the case, since the faster-moving neutrinos seem to have more energy than the slower-moving neutrinos, which is just the opposite of how tachyons are supposed to work.)

Have neutrinos ever been observed moving slower than C (an impossibility for tachyons)? I don't know. But I'd love to find out. Anyway, whatever the truth turns out to be, new developments in physics are always hella exciting. Anything that might get us past the stagnation of string theory, y'know?

And now some obligatory snark:


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