Just a little too fast

Somewhat quietly, in the midst of all the noise and hubbub of politics and pop culture, a news item has appeared reporting that neutrinos have been measured going too fast.

The speed of light in a vacuum — or more precisely, Einstein’s limit on how fast any information carrying event can travel through space — has been regarded for the last century or so as a universal absolute, a fundamental property of our Universe. The value of this constant been repeatedly verified by a large body of careful experimental observation through the years.

Yet these neutrinos were measured traveling from CERN near Geneva to the OPERA detector in Gran Sasso Italy just a bit faster than that. One part in 40,000 too fast, to be more precise. If this measurement turns out to be correct, it will turn much of what we thought we knew about the Universe on its head.

In a few months, this measurement will quite likely turn out to have been the result of some unaccounted for experimental error, as such things usually do.

But we can’t yet know that for sure. And meanwhile, isn’t it fun?

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