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Proving Einstein Wrong?

September 23, 2011

Rheanna Sand

Wow, what an exciting and terrifying day in science! You have probably already heard the news that made Fermilab say "Oh no you DI'INT" - researchers at CERN created neutrinos that appear to have traveled faster than light! This of course has sent a wave of geek humour abuzz on Twitter (search #mundaneneutrinoexplanations for a small slice of nerd heaven), but is also sparking a lot of genuine scientific excitement. Why, you ask? Because scientists - that is, REAL scientists - never say things like "we have proved this beyond a doubt," because we can't. We can't ever prove something is true, because there may be a fact out there that disproves it and we just haven't found it yet.

 

A simple experiment you can try at home! (Photo courtesy of CERN)


Instead, when something amazing happens, we say things like "the results are statistically significant" and "we need more research to confirm our result." That is the news coming out of the OPERA program at CERN - they have published their results for everyone to see and are begging for scrutiny from other scientists. This, for geeks, basically means HOLYCRAP!

There are reasons to be skeptical - for example, CERN relying on GPS to get accurate distance measurements, or that neutrinos from exploding stars seem to travel at the same speed as photons - but the fact that these results come from more than 15 000 neutrino events says they're on to something. And so, the one seemingly unbreakable rule about the universe, that nothing can travel faster than light, may indeed be broken. These neutrinos could be the fact that finally proves Einstein wrong. Which, I'm guessing, he would love.


Oh - and for the terrifying part - FALLING SATELLITE DEBRIS! RUN FOR YOUR LIIIIVES! If, like me, you are strangely paranoid about winning (losing?) this most unfortunate lottery, NASA is keeping track and updating regularly. I think I'll just stay in and come up with more mundane neutrino explanations, thank you very much.

 

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