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Saturday, November 19, 2011

LHC neutrinos still faster than light


Distribution of the δt values obtained from the
events taken with the bunched neutrino beam.
The mean 
value, indicated by the red line
and the blue band, is (62.1 ± 3.7) ns
Scientists on the OPERA experiment announced last month that they had measured neutrinos traveling faster than the speed of light. One major possible cause of measurement error in the results has just been successfully eliminated by a reconfiguration of the experiment to narrow the muon beam into a thinner and more widely pulsed (short-bunch) time-structure, allowing the neutrino time of flight to be measured at closer to the single interaction level. This cleaner signal has improved measurement accuracy to a very respectable 6.2 sigma: An increase of 0.2 sigma. 
"The positive outcome of the test makes us more confident in the result, although a final word can only be said by analogous measurements performed elsewhere in the world" says Fernando Ferroni, president of the Italian Institute for Nuclear Physics
To me this doesn't disprove special relativity or the standard model any more than general relativity disproves Newtonian mechanics. I view our current understanding of physics like a map of the Earth: It's a very handy and convenient way of portraying our world, but just because the map is flat does not imply anything about the shape of the planet. If the pre-Socratic philosophers had any scientific inkling they would have concluded that the shape of the Earth was -- at least in their time -- undetermined by experiment; but sadly such important issues of the time were not judged by empirical measurement and therefore resisted disproof for unnecessary centuries. Were these philosophers ignorant morons for believing the Earth was flat? By today's standards, such bold assertions would even be consistent with statements of opinion served up as scientific fact, sometimes replete with theoretical predictions of known phenomena; lacking only in the devilish details: accurate and repeatable measurement.

Such Hoyle-esque follies of faith befall the best of us; and while irrational and unscientific, I take consolation that this facet of our nature at least does seem to yield consistently repeatable results through the ages.

Read the reprinted paper at arXiv