Saturday, September 24, 2011

E does not equal MC2? Neutrino story technology.

As reported in this MSNBC science link, scientists in at CERN in Geneva have conducted an experiment that appears to have sent neutrinos faster than the speed of light.  "Appears to" isn't quite right.  They repeated this experiment something like 1500 times and got the same result every time.  They know the neutrinos went faster than light.

But to be absolutely certain of accuracy, they want confirmation from other scientists, of course.  If it should be that other scientists confirm this discovery, this could lead to a revolution in physics, because ever since Einstein the speed of light has been understood to be the fastest any particle of matter could ever go.  What the new laws of physics turn out to be that would account for the experiment results, no human being knows right now.

This situation could become a big deal for science fiction.  The speed of light as the absolute limit that matter can travel is a major restriction in stories that try to match known science.  Traveling to other stars is hard  (in my previous post on Nanite space weapons I discuss a couple of the problems), which is why sci fi writers use imaginary technologies like "warp drive."

But if the speed of light is just a guideline as opposed to a rule, it opens up a lot of possibilities.  Keep in mind that in the CERN experiment, the speed-violators were in every case neutrinos, particles that interact very little with most matter and which may weigh nothing.  This leads to a number of story tech possibilities.

Shipboard communications could be by faster-than-light neutrinos.  This would make a neutrino detector a very important piece of shipboard equipment.  Transporters (as in Star Trek) could convert a human being into a neutrino beam and send them to other worlds faster than any starship could go.  Neutrinos, since they interact with matter so little, could travel the whole distance in basically the same shape as when they left.

If neutrinos actually have a tiny amount of mass, perhaps massive quantities of neutrinos hurled backwards at faster than light could be used to propel a ship of normal matter more efficiently up to near-light speed than any propulsion system currently imagined by the human mind.  And the ultimate cool sci fi trick would be if you could convert your whole ship and all its crew into a faster-than-light neutrino version that could be converted back to normal matter at the push of a button upon arrival at your new interstellar destination.

Of course, all this is assuming that neutrinos can go a whole lot faster than light.  Maybe they can't.  The CERN experiment only had particles going 60 nanoseconds faster than light over 454 miles travelled.  That amounts to only 3 / 1000s of a percent faster than light speed.  Not near fast enough to form the basis of any kind of new technology, not even in theory, (By the way, the speed of light is 186,282 miles per second and I calculated the neutrinos were moving about 186,28miles per sec.  FYI.)

Such a 3 / 1000s of 1% still would be enough to rock the physics world, even if  it did nothing much for science fiction.  I for one am eagerly awaiting to see what new surprises for the scientists God has kept up His sleeve...


1 comment:

  1. As of July 12, 2012 OPERA updated their paper by including the new sources of errors in their calculations. They found agreement of neutrino speed with the speed of light.

    So this story idea is no longer based on current science--though still may be of some interest as pure science fiction.