Warped Physics: 10 Effects of Faster-Than-Light Discovery_Featured_, Science Sunday, October 2nd, 2011
By Live Science
Scientists officially announced Friday (Sept. 23) that subatomic particles called neutrinos may be passing the ultimate speed limit, zooming at a velocity faster than light. But according to Einstein’s special theory of relativity, nothing can cross this barrier. So either the measurements are incorrect, or physicists must revise many trusted theories. Here are 10 that would be affected.
10) Special Relativity
The speed-of-light rule represents the backbone of Einstein’s 1905 special theory of relativity. This law does away with the concept of absolute velocity, and instead says that motion is relative. Except for light, that is. All observers, no matter what their own speed, will measure the speed of light at a constant 299,792,458 meters per second (about 700 million miles an hour). This speed represents the fastest that anything can travel, an absolute upper limit on motion.The new findings threaten to overturn this trusted law. “According to relativity, it takes an infinite amount of energy to make anything go faster than light,” said physicist Robert Plunkett of the Fermilab laboratory in Batavia, Ill. “If these things are [moving faster than light], then these rules would have to be rewritten.”
9) Time Travel
Special relativity states that nothing can go faster than the speed of light. If something were to exceed this limit, it would move backward in time, according to the theory.The new finding raises all sorts of thorny questions. If the neutrinos really are traveling faster than light, then they should be time travelers. The particles could theoretically arrive somewhere before they departed. Physicists suggest such an ability, if it really existed, could be used to send neutrinos back in time to deliver messages.
8) Cause and Effect
A fundamental law of physics, indeed of all science, is causality: that cause always precedes effect. This was accepted in classical physics, and the special theory of relativity took pains to preserve the rule, despite the relativity of an object’s motion.But if something can travel faster than light, it can travel backward in time, according to the theory. In this case, an “effect” could travel back to a point before its “cause” had occurred — for instance, a baby swinging before he gets a push. Such a result would be scientific heresy, surely requiring some hasty rewriting of laws to make sure causality is preserved.”Most of the theoretical structure that’s been erected in the 20th century has relied on this concept that things have to go slower than the speed of light,” Plunkett said. “As I understand it if you have anything traveling faster than the speed of light you can have things happening before their causes.”
Einstein’s famous equation E=mc^2 states that energy (E) and mass (m) are equivalent, and can be converted from one to the other by the ratio “c-squared,” where c represents the constant speed of light.The status of the speed of light as the ultimate cosmic speed limit is the reason for its presence in the seminal formula. But if c is not in fact the fastest possible speed in the universe, and things can go faster, this may have to be adjusted in special situations. Perhaps the special speed of neutrinos deserves to win the title of ultimate speed limit instead.
6) The Standard Model
The Standard Model is the name of the reigning theory of particle physics, which describes all the known subatomic particles that make up our universe. [Countdown: The Coolest Little Particles in Nature]But if the speed of light rule, and the theory of relativity are rewritten, this model too may need adjusting.”One of the foundations of the Standard Model is special relativity,” said Stephen Parke, head of the theoretical physics department at Fermilab in Batavia, Ill. “If you start tweaking with the foundation you have to start tweaking with the house on top.”