Just as I and most rationally-minded people in the world thought, it’s almost certain that the alleged faster-than-light neutrinos observed by the OPERA experiment in Geneva last fall were nothing more than a fluke due to measurement errors. As exciting as it would be for the results to be true (especially for the textbook publishing industry- every single science textbook would have to be rewritten and republished, after they rewrite the entire Standard Model of physics!), it looks as though the hypothesis that faulty fiber optic wiring in the detectors were to blame for the 60 nanosecond discrepancy the was observed. Thought scientists apparently aren’t 100% sure that the faulty connection was indeed the cause of the error, they are quite certain that it was some sort of error and not neutrinos actually traveling faster than light. They are quite certain of this because a second experiment- the Imaging Cosmic and Rare Underground Signals, or ICARUS, which uses a different detector in the same facility as the original OPERA experiment could not replicate the results. With the ICARUS experiment, the neutrinos behaved as expected, arriving at the speed of light and obeying the laws of physics as we know them. This, however, is still not enough to put this issue to rest in the eyes of science, and several other experiments around the world intend to independently measure the speed of neutrinos. A few are scheduled to happen in May, and I’d be willing to bet that they will all show that neutrinos aren’t the rebels the initial OPERA experiment showed them to be.

This is how real science works, and why extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. One experiment’s results are never, ever enough to conclusively make any kind of claim. Even with established, large-scale theories things can change as new discoveries are made.

All of this via Universe Today and Live Science.

Playing guitar in space

February 23, 2012

I’m always happy when the worlds of music and science collide in cool ways, as should be quite evident by the name of this blog. In reality science IS music, just like science is everything, but this is one instance where it’s especially cool. Astronaut Chris Hadfield is scheduled to be commander of the International Space Station, and he also happens to be a musician. It turns out music is actually an integral part of maintaining the psychological health of the astronauts, and so NASA decided to put an acoustic guitar on the station. This video from Space.com shows Hadfield explaining the guitar design itself, as well as the challenges and adaptations one has to make when playing in zero gravity. Very cool.

On a side note, I’m well aware of collective facepalm the science community is doing right now since the story broke yesterday that the apparent faster-than-light neutrinos discovered last fall may actually be due to a simple bad GPS cable connection. This is still, as far as I can tell, unconfirmed, so I’m holding off on posting anything in-depth. But I will say that I almost expected it to be something so trivial… We’ll see how it pans out.

Of course the big news about the “faster than light” neutrinos would have to break right in the middle of Soundland, when I was insanely busy running around taking literally thousands of photos for 4 days straight… but the above image pretty much sums up how I feel about it. There’s an old saying in science- extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. However, in this case we’re not dealing with crackpot fringe scientists, we’re dealing with CERN scientists. In other words these people are very disciplined and have ruled out just about every other statistical anomaly, measurement inaccuracy, or other explanation for their results. So the fact that they measured neutrinos that appear to have traveled faster than light is not in question. The key word there is appear. And this is such a massively important discovery that the scientists involved are asking for comparison from the rest of the worldwide scientific community. They want others to repeat their experiments and see if they get the same result. When you’re questioning one of the most iron-clad, thoroughly proven theories of science such as General Relativity, you’d better have rock-solid, repeatable evidence to support your claim. No matter what the outcome of this, it will fascinating to sit back and watch as it unfolds. Here are a few links to interesting articles I’ve found relating to this news: