Good reasons to be sceptical about Italian speed-of-light claims


IF NEUTRINOS are moving from zero to faster than the speed of light, then Einstein was wrong. But he probably wasn’t.

Although scientists always need an open mind, Dr Cormac O’Raifeartaigh of the Waterford Institute of Technology said there were good reasons to be sceptical of claims neutrinos moved faster than the speed of light in an experiment run at the Sasso National Laboratory in Italy.

“It’s a little bit like somebody saying I’ve discovered a number bigger than infinity,” he said. He spoke last night at the Davenport Hotel with the Irish Sceptics Society as part of Maths Week 2011 organised by the institute.

Dr O’Raifeartaigh said: “It’s unlikely, very unlikely, actually, that the speed of light has been broken.”

Both in theory and in practical experiments – except for this one – nothing has ever exceeded 299,792,458 metres per second. This is partially because light does not have mass. Neutrinos, the particles in the experiment, do.

As a particle comes closer and closer to approaching the speed of light, it gets heavier. Energy becomes mass instead of increasing speed.

“It doesn’t matter how much energy you put into it. What happens is the energy is actually making it bigger,” Dr O’Raifeartaigh added.

If neutrinos could move faster than the speed of light, astronomers watching neutrinos in black holes would have noticed the phenomena years ago, he said.


QMathematicians will often say that maths is about seeing patterns. Carl Friedrich Gauss (1777-1855) is considered by many to be the greatest of mathematicians and there is a nice story told about his early school years. The teacher asked the class to add up all the numbers between 1 and 100, presumably to get some time to prepare material. However, the young Gauss immediately put up his hand and said 5050. How do you think he could have figured it out so quickly?

TODAY: Cillian O’Murchu explores the role of maths in the financial world and helps make sense of the credit crunch, at IT Sligo at 1.30pm.

TOMORROW: Prof Chris Budd takes students on a mathematical tour of the zoo at the RDS at 12:00pm and 2:00pm.