Home > Critical Thinking, Current Affairs, Musings, Reason, Secular Religions, Skepticism > On Neutrinos and the Speed of Light

On Neutrinos and the Speed of Light

In the last few days, you might have seen many articles about recent experiments which raise the possibility that neutrinos might travel a wee bit faster than light. While these results do not imply that we can build a time-machine tomorrow, they are nonetheless interesting for more than a couple of reasons.

Firstly, they are not unexpected. Yes! you heard that right. The idea that neutrinos might travel a bit faster than light has been around since the 1980s. Infact there has been at least one previous set of experiments which gave values (1.0000510 c) close to those reported last week (1.0000248 c). At that time it interpreted as an experimental error.

However the weight of evidence seems to be shifting towards the position that neutrinos might be slightly tachyonic. In any case, you must remember that neutrinos are really bizzare particles.

They can travel at the speed of light (or faster?) even though they have mass. It is however hard to measure their mass because they hardly interact with matter or electromagnetic fields. Indeed the strongest evidence that they posses mass is their ability to change ‘flavor’ from one type to another- something which supposedly only particles with mass can do.

Some of you might point out that light can be slowed by Bose-Einstein condensates. However the recent experiments compared the speed of neutrinos to the maximum speed of any electromagnetic wave traversing the shortest distance between the two points. To me that is the strongest indirect evidence that they are on to something peculiar.

While the measured speed of neutrinos is only ~ 1/40,000th faster than light or any other EM, the results (if true) blow a wide hole in many of our models of the universe. This is doubly so because neutrinos are supposed to have a very small mass, unlike photons which supposedly have none. There has always been some major issues reconciling relativity with quantum mechanics and these results do not make things easier- at least in the short run.

Only time will tell whether these results are experimental artifacts or the real deal, but the fact that this phenomena has been known and documented for some time makes me believe that it is probably real.


  1. Columnist
    September 25, 2011 at 12:43 am

    This was known in science secret to the general public.

  2. September 25, 2011 at 1:03 am

    This is doubly so because neutrinos are supposed to have a very small mass, unlike photons which supposedly have none.

    Mass is relative to electrons. Since electrons, neutrinos and photons are supposedly of the same size, the idea of mass doesn’t apply there.

  3. September 25, 2011 at 6:31 am

    Tesla reported this idea in 1932, just sayin

  4. Joe
    September 25, 2011 at 3:48 pm

  5. Ted
    September 25, 2011 at 7:14 pm

    It’s a poorly kept secret in physics that Einstein’s theories, if true, don’t actually prohibit a particle from traveling faster than light. What’s prohibited is acceleration through c. (mass theoretically becomes infinite at c) A particle that simply begins it’s existence at a superliminal speed seems odd, but no more so than particle/wave duality, or a dozen other widely accepted concepts. The potential existence of such particles, in my opinion, is ignored merely because we have no math capable of explaining them. Of course, planets used to be forced into impossibly complex circular motions, because non-circular orbits were impossible. At least they were, until Newton invented calculus, and obliterated centuries of false assumptions.

  6. September 29, 2011 at 7:59 pm

    wait, if they travel faster than light does that mean they move forward or backward in time?

  7. Columnist
    September 30, 2011 at 12:29 am

    Faster than light doesn’t have to have light effects. After all, stars from lightyears away look younger, but aren’t younger.

  1. October 1, 2011 at 7:09 am

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