Sunday, March 18, 2012

Superluminal Science

Well, it appears that the possibility of superluminal neutrinos took another hit recently, as an independent group of scientists reported that they detected no neutrinos moving faster than light using the same beam of neutrinos that the scientists from the OPERA detector used (they were the ones who initially reported the anomalous findings).

Along with the report I mentioned a few weeks earlier about how some problems had been detected in the timing apparatus used to measure the time of flight for the neutrinos, and it's looking like relativity theory was correct after all. There will still be some more tests carried out, but barring any major upsets this is probably the last we'll hear about the proceedings.

I'd just like to finish this post by emphasizing how this was a wonderful example of the scientific method in action. Scientists (or pseudo-scientists) depressingly often try to make sweeping claims on too little evidence. The public hears the initial claim, but rarely do they hear when those same claims are quietly retracted. But the scientists who reported the initially anomalous findings did a tip-top job of remaining objective and open to other possibilities. They didn't try to make any sweeping claims, merely reported that their results (which were conducted over several years and many, many test runs) didn't fit with accepted theory. The fact that some of their equipment wasn't quite working perfectly was easy to overlook, given the enormous complexity of the whole system. So overall it's been an exciting little episode in physics.

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