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• The speed of light problem – ‘a difference of 60 feet’ – is familiar to baseball pitchers.

By MICHIO KAKU [Wall Street Journal] – In the 1930s the Nazi Party criticized Einstein’s theory, publishing a book called “100 Authorities Denounce Relativity.” Einstein later quipped that you don’t need 100 famous intellectuals to disprove his theory. All you need is one simple fact.

Well, that simple fact may be in the form of the latest experiments at the largest particle accelerators in the world, based at CERN, outside Geneva. Physicists fired a beam of neutrinos (exotic, ghost-like particles that can penetrate even the densest of materials) from Switzerland to Italy, over a distance of 454 miles. Much to their amazement, after analyzing 15,000 neutrinos, they found that they traveled faster than the speed of light—one 60-billionth of a second faster, to be precise. In a billionth of a second, a beam of light travels about one foot. So a difference of 60 feet was quite astonishing…

How will this astonishing result play out? As Carl Sagan once said, remarkable claims require remarkable proof. Laboratories around the world, like Fermilab outside Chicago, will redo the CERN experiments and try to falsify or verify their results…

My gut reaction, however, is that this is a false alarm. Over the decades, there have been numerous challenges to relativity, all of them proven wrong. In the 1960s, for example, physicists were measuring the tiny effect of gravity upon a light beam. In one study, physicists found that the speed of light seemed to oscillate with the time of day. Amazingly, the speed of light rose during the day, and fell at night. Later, it was found that, since the apparatus was outdoors, the sensors were affected by the temperature of daylight.

Reputations may rise and fall. But in the end, this is a victory for science. No theory is carved in stone…Unlike religion or politics, science is ultimately decided by experiments, done repeatedly in every form. There are no sacred cows. In science, 100 authorities count for nothing. Experiment counts for everything.

Continued in The Wall Street Journal | More Chronicle & Notices.

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