Monday, October 17, 2011

Einstein Proves Einstein Was Right (Again)

Faster-Than-Light Neutrinos Might Be Explained By GPS Failing to Account for Special Relativity - Popular Science 10/17/11

Never mess with Einstein, Einstein is always right. In a stunningly simple explanation, Dutch physicist Ronald van Elburg has used Einstein's Theory of Special Relativity to explain why those faster-than-light neutrinos didn't actually exceed the cosmic speed limit. CERN scientists set the academic world ablaze a couple of weeks ago with their discovery of particles that seemed to move faster than the speed of light (around 60 nanoseconds faster). In this new report however, the study is exposed for having neglected the fact that the clocks were calibrated with a GPS system above the earth, so the relative positions of the clocks and neutrinos changed slightly as the GPS satellite passed overhead. The error rate calculated by van Elburg would be to expect about a 64 ns difference, enough to compensate for the results seen by CERN. Awesome. Einstein's equations are used to prove Einstein's equations are correct.

Light is such a weird phenomenon. While everything else we understand as relative speed, light is constant no matter what. For example, say you can throw a baseball 60 miles per hour. If you are riding in a car going 60 miles per hour and throw that baseball forward, the baseball will actually be traveling 120 miles per hour* (until gravity and wind resistance take over, but let's ignore that for this example). If you throw the ball the opposite way the car is traveling, it will appear to stand still (0 mph) before dropping to the ground. Light on the other hand does not function this way. If you shine a flashlight, the light will travel 186,000 miles per second. If you are traveling in a car going 60 mph and shine that flashlight, either direction the light will have a speed of 186,000 mps. The speed of the car will not add or detract from the speed of light. Wild.

This is exactly what I love about science (aside from the fact we get to discover new amazing things about the universe). What's true and what's correct always wins out in the long run. Someone can get interesting results that may change the landscape of what we think we know, and immediately it is subjected to peer review and criticism and testing to confirm or deny those results. Just because something sounds cool or may be exciting if true, doesn't mean it is so until it can be corroborated independently and proven so. Science cannot be bothered by what if's and hope so's, it is driven by what is's and how so's... Religion does not offer this same checks and balances in search of the truth of the universe. It holds rigid in the face of valid criticism.

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