Magazine article Science News

Critics Take Aim at Fast Neutrinos: Lack of Energy Trail Suggests Finding Was Miscalculated

Magazine article Science News

Critics Take Aim at Fast Neutrinos: Lack of Energy Trail Suggests Finding Was Miscalculated

Article excerpt

A new study puts the brakes on faster-than-light neutrinos.

In September, a group at Italy's OPERA experiment reportedly clocked neutrinos traveling the 730 kilometers from CERN in Switzerland to Italy's underground Gran Sasso National Laboratory about 60 nanoseconds faster than light would have covered that distance in a vacuum (SN.. 10/22/11, p. 18). But if this were true, most of the neutrinos would have shed energy en route, a new analysis by Boston University physicists suggests.

OPERA should have detected this radiation, say the physicists, if its claims are to be believed. It didn't.

"I would be ecstatic to see some kind of new physics coming from this experiment," says Andrew Cohen, a theoretical physicist who, with Nobel Prize-winner Sheldon Glashow, reports the new finding in an upcoming Physical Review Letters. "It's just hard to accommodate that, given this [lack of] radiation."

To follow up on this idea, a second neutrino experiment at Gran Sasso called ICARUS searched for signs of this radiation and found none.

A similar type of energy loss has long been studied in water and other materials in which light travels slower than it does in empty space. Particles that travel faster than light in these substances give off energy known as Cerenkov radiation.

Cohen and Glashow's paper is the first to extend this idea to neutrinos allegedly outpacing light in a vacuum. The standard model of particle physics dictates that they too must give up energy, spitting out pairs of electrons and positrons, says Cohen. …

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