A Million Times The Speed Of Light
    By Sascha Vongehr | October 3rd 2011 03:58 AM | 7 comments | Print | E-mail | Track Comments
    About Sascha

    Dr. Sascha Vongehr [风洒沙] studied phil/math/chem/phys in Germany, obtained a BSc in theoretical physics (electro-mag) & MSc (stringtheory)...

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    The reportedly faster than light neutrinos at OPERA may be a systematic error, but if these and those data of other neutrino experiments are correct, they hint at a phenomenon that propagates with very many times, perhaps millions of times the speed of light.


    Some, like Cohen and Glashow (, only look at the average velocity and then explain to us why the neutrinos could not possibly travel that fast. That is a little silly, because we already know for many years, namely from supernova data, that neutrinos do not travel that fast over long distances. Sure, Glashow is Glashow, so to some this must be a “beautiful refutation of the OPERA result”, even if it ignores that precisely the OPERA results indicate neutrinos may not have had a constant velocity at all. As I will point out below, C&G should have thought deeper about the 10 nanoseconds of uncertainty in the data and not be hung up on the 60 nanoseconds early arrival time. (UPDATE: the newest data from OPERA further strengthen the discussion here. They are afflicted by a 25 ns "jitter" which is clearly separated from the 10 ns statistical error, which is explained in the new article "OPERA Confirms Faster Than Light Neutrinos And Indicates Ultra Superluminal Small Initial Jumps".)


    We know already why the neutrinos could go faster and what new experiments this suggests, why it does not imply time travel or violates causality, and why it is somewhat expected for neutrinos. Now let us focus on what kind of superluminal velocity is indicated.


    There are three reasons for expecting extremely high superluminal velocities over short distances. This can be argued looking at three aspects, namely

    1) the totality of all neutrino experiments,

    2) the expectation from modern emergent relativity, and

    3) the small 10 nano second statistical deviation in the OPERA data.


    1) Totality of all Neutrino Experiments

    The MINOS experiment a few years back already found evidence that neutrinos might move faster than the speed of light c, namely at 1.000051 (+/- 0.000029) c. Supernova1987A in the Large Magellanic Cloud 168 thousand light-years away indicated at most a tiny increase over the speed of light. 23 neutrinos were seen over 13 seconds arriving 3 hours earlier than the light. In fact, this time difference is mostly due to the neutrinos carrying most of the nova’s energy (in a type II supernova) through the outer layers of the star while much visible light emerges only after the shock wave from the stellar core collapse reaches the surface of the star. OPERA is reported to indicate a velocity of only one part in 100000 above the speed of light.


    Looking at all these experiments, the superluminal speed is going down along with the total distance over which the neutrinos have traveled. This indicates that they just traveled a short distance x faster than light, after which they slowed down and traveled further with a velocity just under the speed of light. The longer they travel afterward, the less the initial short distance x of initial superluminal propagation is noticeable as an increase of the average velocity v. The average v equals total travel time divided by the large total distance D, so it seems as if there is only a small increase over light speed.


    2) Expectation from Emergent Relativity

    I discussed at great length [see links above and the archive paper] about so called emergent relativity. Einstein relativity has been confirmed to emerge naturally in several condensed state systems (graphene, super fluid helium, crystals’ dislocations). Relativity is an unsurprising symmetry in condensed states of matter. Particle physics (standard model, Higgs condensate, string theory) and gravity (Einstein-ether) look very much like as if they are emergent from an underlying, more fundamental condensate. Now you may hold the opinion that an Einstein-ether is complete nonsense, but even if such is ‘merely a similarity in the mathematical description’, you already agree with everything claimed here!

    The limit velocity inside a condensate is the internally valid “light velocity c*”. If you look at the limit velocity in super fluid helium for example, it is the Landau limit that was first estimated to be 58 meters per second (the last measurement I looked at gives 46 m/s for 4HeII). Above this velocity, superfluidity breaks down and heat is dissipated, meaning that sound is generated. Sound travels with a velocity V* much faster than the Landau limit, namely several hundred meters per second or more, depending on pressure. Thus, a high V*= 10 c* is to be expected.

    If we look at the limit velocity of fluid helium droplets outside of a superfluid helium bath, it is of course our light velocity c. This means that for this system, the limit velocity inside of it is about c* = 50 meters per second, while velocities outside can go up to V* = 299792458 meters per second, a factor of 10000000 higher!

    Thus, if this (namely condensed state physics emergent gravity) is any indication at all; if our universe is describable as a condensed state, you should expect superluminal phenomena with V = 10 c. If for example our universe has some sort of effective outside like extra dimensions (as string theory indeed claims), you should not be entirely surprised if superluminal phenomena with amazing velocities V = 10000000 c are possible! By the way: Such could be involved in the Cosmic ray paradox where protons appear with energies far above the Greisen-Zatsepin-Kuzmin Limit.

    3) The 10 Nanosecond Uncertainty in the OPERA Data

    The third indication of that the phenomenon indicated by OPERA is one that has many times the speed of light (but only for about 20 meters around the neutrino creation) comes straight from the data.

    Assuming, as is standard, that neutrinos usually travel at just under the speed of light c, and having T denote the 60 nanoseconds early arrival measured at OPERA, the initial distance over which superluminal propagation with velocity V could have occurred is simply


    x = c * T / [ 1 - (c/V) ]

    At high superluminal velocity V above 10 c, the approximation x = c * T suffices.

    V = 10 c results in x = 20 meters; V = 10000000 c gives x = 18 meters. Note that the two meters of difference here is close to the uncertainty in the data, which is Del T = 10 nanoseconds and thus also corresponds to about three meters. So, depending on the detailed assumptions about the perhaps involved mechanisms, it may be that if for example neutrinos were to splash around with a wide variety of velocities around 1000 c, some maybe 10000 c, some only 100 c, which is obviously a huge difference, x would be, surprise surprise, the same 18 meters!

    This is different at low superluminal velocities: V = 1.2 c gives x = 108 meters, while V = 1.1 c gives already almost 200 meters, almost double the distance. Any smaller V leads to rapidly larger results for x. In other words, if you assume any distribution of velocities around a small average V, the standard distribution around x should be very large, namely hundreds of meters, kilometers, ... .

    However, the error in the data is only 10 nanoseconds. At an assumed small average V = 1.2 c for example, if the uncertainty were only due to statistical noise, 10 ns will translate into a standard deviation of merely Del x = 18 meters. Do not get confused by the coincidence of having the same value of 18 m; focus instead on that these 18 meters of uncertainty Del x are much smaller than the difference between 108 meters and 200 meters! The crux is that adding even a small variation of V would spread out the data much more than observed.

    At the small superluminal velocities that Cohen and Glashow for example assume, a ridiculously small variation around V is implied. So, basically they "proved" that the OPERA result is a systematic error afflicting a sub-luminal speed by assuming that it is a systematic error afflicting a sub-luminal speed. If you do not assume what you want to prove right from the start, if you take it as the statistical error of a superluminal velocity like the OPERA team's data analysis tells us, the result is radically different.

    Thus, depending again on many other assumptions about the details of what is actually going on of course, the relatively small statistical error in the data hints at a very high velocity V around or far above 10 c over a small distance x, consistent with the previous two considerations. This is all more clearly perhaps explained with taking the 25 ns "jitter" of the new OPERA data into account here.


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    A Wonderful Post, Sasha.
    I would like to point out that this is not the first time a CERN physicist has argued for V > 10 C, in this case an effect subsequently measured:

    QM entanglement correlations (see my articles on the EPR paradox, where there is seemingly instantaneous interaction but nothing goes faster than light) are very different from information carrying signals (neutrinos carry at least the information that an experiment has indeed taken place) going superluminal.
    Did you check equation 4. in the Glashow paper? Your scheme increases 'del' by almost 10-to-the-power-6 to make the speed 10c, and reduces 'x' by almost 10-to-the-power-of-5 (from almost 1000km to 10m). The energy decay they mention, E_T, falls faster following 'del' than following the distance 'x' or 'L.' In other words the energy decay should be worse for this case?

    That said, I don't think any theory paper can refute measured data; only identifying the error or a failure to replicate can be considered refutation.

    The equations in that paper have certain assumptions, for example the neutrinos do not leave the usual standard model (SM) background into extra dimensions and pretty much behave according to the SM although superluminal interaction (if it at all exists) must be expected to be physics beyond the SM. Given their assumptions, equation 4 shows that the neutrinos would have lost almost all their energy before reaching Gran Sasso, which is their main argument. That is all fine, given the right assumptions.
    Luis Gonzalez-Mestres
    Unfortunately, there is a real problem with the OPERA and other similar data. I would have liked it not to be the case, but I already pointed out this problem on September 28, the day before Cohen and Glashow, in the introduction of this paper :

    Comments on the recent result of the ”Measurement of the neutrino velocity with the OPERA detector in the CNGS beam”,

    and I further developed it on September 29 here :

    Astrophysical consequences of the OPERA superluminal neutrino,

    The problem is that producing a superluminal neutrino costs extra energy, and this energy can be provided only by the mass term of the incoming particle. This mass term decreases like the inverse of momentum. Therefore, to produce neutrinos above some energy, the critical speed anomaly must propagate to the pion and the kaon, and from them to the proton. This is disastrous.

    There is also the spontaneous decay on the neutrino into an electron - positron pair used by Cohen and Glashow, that I had also underlined the day before their article. But is even not the worst disease.

    Neutrino experiments are very difficult, and there have already been in the past wrong announcements about oscillations and masses.

    Luis Gonzalez-Mestres
    Has anyone considered the issue of what happens to neutrinos or doesn't happen to them as they travel through matter. I remember that there is a illusion of faster then light effects when the radio signals (like GPS) travel through the ionosphere, and interact with all those free electrons. As neutrinos travel and oscillate do they experience gravity or matter the same in all phases of their oscillation?

    Luis Gonzalez-Mestres
    This has been considered here, for instance :

    Apparent superluminal neutrino propagation caused by nonlinear coherent interactions in matter