Posts tagged ‘speed of light’

October 7th, 2011

Neutrinos Faster Than Light or Extra Dimensions?

by Max Andrews

Source: CERN Press

By now we’ve all heard of the news coming out of CERN and OPERA on 23 September that the Italian accelerator, OPERA, measured neutrinos traveling faster than the speed of light.  I didn’t comment on the finding right away because I wanted to do some research on the claims and on what exactly happened.  So here are my two-cents.

So, what exactly is a neutrino?  A neutrino is a fundamental particle and crucial for the standard model of particle physics.  The neutrino comes tin three types: [associated with] the electron, muon, and tauon, which are fermions and part of leptons.  The have no electric charge and interact only via the weak nuclear force (see the Oxford Companion to Cosmology for more on this).  These particle are incredibly difficult to detect and pass through our bodies all the time (this is a nice little Italian cartoon that has an excellent depiction of neutrinos).

So, what happened?  CERN sent the neutrinos 730lm to the Italian accelerator OPERA.  The journey only took 2.43 milliseconds and the scientists timed it to within 10 nanoseconds. (A millisecond is a thousandth of a second, 1/1,000s and a nanosecond is a billionth of a second, 1/1,000,000,000s).  The neutrinos arrived 60 nanoseconds earlier than they would have if they were traveling at the speed of light (c = 299,792,458 m/s). There are three options of what could have happened.

  1. Option One.  The experiment was in error and the calculations are simply incorrect.
  2. Option Two.  The speed of light is not the cosmic speed limit and there must be slight adjustments for relativity theory.
  3. Option Three.  The neutrinos took a shortcut through extra dimensions.

Option One: Experimental Error.  The OPERA team spent three years trying to calculate and find every error they could possibly find.  The neutrinos are produced by colliding protons into a graphite target to produce pions and travel a 1km tunnel and decay to produce neutrinos.  Electronic delays in the timing system that records when protons arrive at the graphite target introduce uncertainty.  However, this margin of error is 5 nanoseconds. Where the pions decay is also unknown, which produces an error of 0.2 ns.  Measuring the distance is also difficult because the OPERA lab in Gran Sasso is inside of a mountain, which is undetectable to GPS.  However, the distance can still be calculated to within 20 cm.  The error is 0.67 ns.  With the other errors taken into consideration, the total error bar is 7.4 ns.  Remember, if experimental error is going to be the prevalent option the errors have to account for 60 nanoseconds.

Option Two: Adjusting Relativity.  If it really is the case that the neutrinos did travel faster than the speed of light then Einstein isn’t completely thrown to the curb.  There must be a theory that will account for this that will be closer to the truth.  This has historical precedence.  Newtonian physics were thought to explain the universe until Einstein came around with the concept of relativity.  Newton wasn’t necessarily wrong, Einstein just provided a more accurate theory.  If neutrinos can travel faster than c then we need another Einsteinian discovery.  Not that big of deal.

Option Three: Extra Dimensions.  It may be the case that the neutrinos, when travel with an incredible amount of energy, travel through the smaller curled up dimensions.  Consider the neutrinos traveling into the fourth dimension, this would actually make the distance much shorter.  Hopefully this illustration will help.  Take a piece of paper and draw a straight line across the paper.  Label one end of the line A and the other B.  This line is one-dimensional.  Take the paper and fold it so it creates an upward arch.  Now, if you were to travel from A to B by going through the paper instead of curving around the outside of the paper then the distance would be shorter.  This may, perhaps, be what happened to the neutrinos. (For more information on the discovery see New Scientist No. 2832, October 1-7 2011).

I tend to lean more towards option three, that the neutrinos passed through the smaller extra dimensions.  This would be an incredible development that would contribute to and, possibly, confirm a prediction of string theory.  Part of this may be wishful thinking on my part but this may potentially be an incredible empirical find that would confirm the mathematics.  Now, what about further philosophical or theological implications?  I don’t think this has too much of an impact on philosophy or theology that hasn’t already been addressed concerning the philosophy of science or of scientific theology.  For more on these implications see “The Relationship Between Science and Philosophy,” “Einstein, the Big Bang, and Natural Theology,” “Einstein on Free Will,” and “Einstein’s Impact on the Epistemic Method.”

March 20th, 2011

Young Earth Cosmology Just Doesn’t Cut It

by Max Andrews

I haven’t blogged in a while because I’ve been quite busy doing research papers on theological fatalism, J.M.E. McTaggart’s arguments against the reality of time, and Einstein’s theory of relativity’s impact on theology.  While researching for my Einstein paper I chose to do a piece on his influence in natural theology by discussing his epistemic method and big bang cosmology.  I discussed how Einstein, Lemaître, Friedman, and Hubble collectively overturned young earth cosmology (if anything they were the catalyst in the overthrow).  I gave young earth creationism a voice with Russell Humphrey’s book Starlight and Time, which is supposedly the best model of young earth cosmology (Russell holds a PhD in physics from Louisiana State University).  I soon discovered that Humphreys made a cluster of errors in relativity.

I found this rebuttal by Samuel R. Conner and Don N. Page (Page studied under Stephen Hawking and specializes in quantum cosmology and black holes).  The paper made an interesting read because both parties had respectable credentials.  Granted, it is a technical paper so it may be a tough read, (Starlight and Time is the Big Bang).  I don’t have any rights to the paper, it’s publicly available at: The abstract is below.

The physics of Dr. Russell Humphreys’ new cosmological model presented in Starlight and Time is profoundly flawed and the conclusions drawn from this model are seriously mistaken.  An accurate treatment of the physics indicates that this model is actually a trivial variant of the standard Big Bang model, with its attendant implications for the age of the Universe and the Earth time required for light to travel from distant galaxies to the Earth.

I wanted to add a brief note about the speed of light and whether or not it changes [or has changed].  There are models consistent with a 13.7 billion year old universe that suggests a change in the speed of light.  Recent varying-speed-of-light (VSL) theories have been suggested as a possible alternative to cosmic inflation for solving the horizon problem, the problem of causality over long distances in initial inflation, suggesting that the speed of light was once much greater.  This is not a popular view since it is difficult to construct explicit models permitting such a suitable variation.  Other constants have been suggested to change (a theory of varying fundamental constants) in part due to superstring theory and eternal inflation.  Even so with these theories and cosmic models, there are still more-fundamental (in contrast to varying) constants in the parent universes (preceding universes in the multiverse models).  Even with a theory of varying fundamental constants Einstein’s equations [of STR] still stand in such models. (Andrew R. Liddle, and Jon Loveday, The Oxford Companion to Cosmology (Oxford:  Oxford University Press, 2009), 316.)  The speed of light is [approximately] 300,000 km/s.  Einstein’s E=mc2 states that energy is proportional to the mass of an object multiplied by the speed of light squared.  If c decays then that would imply that there has been a change in the quantity of energy in the universe.  This creates a problem for thermodynamics.  This would not be the only problem; many other constants would need to change as well to preserve the stability of a life-permitting cosmos such as Planck’s constant h.  Suddenly the objection is not only with c because that would in turn change all of physics. All of this would be done to circumvent an old universe suggested by a constant speed of light.