Out in the heartland last week with some time to spare, I began wondering about the "possible" discovery that neutrinos might travel faster than light, at least under some conditions. First the disclaimer: the experimenters may have missed a systematic error and the result may be wrong. BUT they did wait a few years before publishing the complete results to check their work with much care, AND this is not the first time that such a possibility has been contemplated. Neutrinos are rather odd.
I am struck by the similar nagging notion that when some phenomena is unexplained by past knowledge and theories, that it sometimes leads to a new, better way of understanding the world.
A famous Danish astronomer, Tycho Brahe, found that the position of Mars was off about five degrees for a few days of the year. Not much. Others brushed the anomaly under the rug. Kepler did not and discovered the true equations of motion for the orbits of planets, leading to Newton's discovery of the classical law of gravity.
Astronomers noticed that the rotations curves of spiral galaxies seemed to imply that galaxies were surrounded by huge, uniform distributions of some kind of mass that had no influence on star formation. Also, they found that clusters of galaxies seemed to be much, much heavier than explained by the galaxies they contained. For decades, that was 'brushed under the rug'. Then other measurements helped prove the existence of dark matter.
The Davis neutrino experiment found no neutrinos from the Sun for decades. Physicists ignored it, assuming the astronomers made a mistake in their models of star interiors. Later, evidence came that neutrinos were purportedly oscillating over the 93 million miles into other, undetectable forms.
c > 1 ?
m > 0 ?
[in lieu of subscripts, I use 'c' and 'm' here for the speed and rest mass of a neutrino.]
The recently published experimental results find the speed of the neutrino to be 1.000248 as expressed in units of the velocity of light being 1. Measurements of the flight time of neutrinos from a supernova showed those traveled at the speed of light to within 1 part in 450 million [i. e., to within 0.00000000222]. Those neutrinos has much less energy that the ones observed here on earth to travel faster than light. Perhaps the speed of a neutrino is not a constant: all particles with rest mass can have variable speeds.
"Theory" says they "must" have mass (i. e., rest mass), yet all measurements so far find none. In fact, the experiments measure the square of the mass and those experiments find that quantity is negative. The error bars encompass zero, so the scientists state the results as an upper limit to the neutrino mass. But if the results are correct, then the neutrino mass is imaginary. Yes, an imaginary number. The canonical imaginary number conveyed by i which equals the square root of -1. A particle with an imaginary mass has strange properties. One is that it would seem to travel faster than light. Hmmm.
Perhaps the neutrino is a form of tachyon. That has been speculated in the past. Tachyons are odd particles that always travel faster than light. They also have imaginary mass. And they can be used to explore time backwards. Hmmm. Other explanations of some phenomena seem to require advanced electromagnetic waves for their explanation. All this is puzzling. Are we seeing the effects of some new, now unexplained structure of the Universe?
Time will tell.
Word of the Day
"Endue" - verb, transitive [$10] literary
Endue means (followed by 'with') invest or provide (a person of thing) with qualities, powers, etc.
Sentence: [from the preface of "All for Love", by John Dryden as published in vol. XVIII of the Harvard Classics, page 14] "Men of pleasant conversation (or at least esteemed so), and endued with a trifling kind of fancy, perhaps helped out with some smattering of Latin, are ambitious to distinguish themselves from the herd of gentlemen, by their poetry (Latin phrase omitted here) and is this not a wretched affectation."
Wretched: one of those fine words now underused.