Faster-than-light neutrinos? “Hold on to that ketchup for now”

XKCD's take on public understanding of science

If you’ve been confused by recent reports of the on again/off again ‘faster-than-light’ neutrinos Professor Matt Strassler explains, in relatively straight-forward terms, why neither the updated OPERA experiment, nor the findings from ICARUS, really changes the situation.  For now.

And as theoretical physicist Jim “I will eat my boxer shorts on live TV” Al-Khalili says at Comment is Free

The point is that Icarus no more proves Einstein right than Opera proves him wrong. Both results are experimental measurements, not discoveries. A proper test would involve a new experiment carried out independently by another lab, and plans are under way in Japan and the US, but they will take some months at least.

I would love it if neutrinos could indeed travel faster than light. Such a discovery, if confirmed, would be heaven for physicists around the world: blackboards will be scrawled on, heads scratched, and Nobel prizes in the offing for a new Einstein.

And my boxers? Hold on to that ketchup for now; my money is still on Einstein. He was, after all, pretty smart. And I am not prepared to rewrite my lecture course on relativity just yet. But what fun, eh?


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  • Cynic2

    ” I am not prepared to rewrite my lecture course on relativity just yet.”

    Rewrite? Surely just move it to the History of Science course. We all have to recycle these days

  • Jimmy Sands

    “Sorry we don’t serve faster than light neutrinos in here”. So this faster than light neutrino goes into a bar.

  • Rory Carr

    Something brighter than light, now that I could understand a fuss being made, but something faster than light, who cares already?

    Maybe something faster than the 73 bus on a Monday morning or a Friday evening, but we already got street lamps that light up faster than Leary the Lamplighter at his peak could have managed so what’s the big improvement?

    Still, if anything can oblige Al-Khalil to eat his boxer shorts on television then I’m all for it. At least it would make a change from Frankie Cocozza (but not much).

  • Cynic2


    If faster than light travel is possible then perhaps it would be easier for Republicans to go back in time and rewrite history the way they would have liked it to be


  • Rory Carr

    I’m sure that would be a wonderful convenience, Cynic.

    Such advances would, of course, be quite superfluous for Unionism, since, in its consciousness, it has ever dwelt in a place far, far back in time.

  • Charlie Sheens PR guru

    Its gets a bit baffling to try and think if there is a new universal speed limit then what governs that, if there even is one.

    And why does everything tend towards, without ever reaching, the speed of light?

    I always had a nice way of thinking of relativity and explaining it to people, that if you are on a bike and start peddling faster the rest of the street around you starts to narrow around our bike (length contraction) . now that doesn’t exactly work either…

  • Cynic2


    It never narrowed around you. Its length changed along the axis of your travel

  • The yokel

    1) 62.13% of slugger threads end up as futile attempts to travel back in time and rewrite history.
    2) there is no detectable orange /green bias (+/- 5%) in the instigators of this phenomenon
    3) 87.34% of statistics are made up on the spot
    4) Particle physics is very much work in progress, absolute certainty is the preserve of the above

  • Charlie Sheens PR guru


    Yes I’m well aware of that, and if I wasn’t speaking to a room of political anoraks I wouldn’t say narrow at all. Nor would I even use the bicycle going down the street analogy. (Incidentally the narrowing comment meant that if you were looking side on to the cyclist but still remain in his frame of reference)

    Try the starship enterprise then. Floating along in space, decides to fire a missile so from the stationary observer the missile speed = SE speed + missile launch speed. Then it decides to turn on its searchlight. Searchlight photon speed = light speed not light speed +SE speed.

    If this neutrino has gone faster what is going on here?

  • Cynic2

    I assume you can look at it two ways.

    One is the conventional – it went faster than light so got there quicker.

    The second is essentially the same thing but expressed differently – it exceeded the speed of light so began to travel backwards in time as well as forwards in distance ie it arrived before it was expected by the outside observer