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Posted at 09:42 AM ET, 02/23/2012

Neutrinos are not faster than light — why you should never doubt Einstein

Five months ago today, the scientific community was sent into a tailspin.


Albert Einstein. (AP)
Scientists at CERN, the world’s largest physics lab, announced a startling finding: Subatomic particles, called neutrinos, were found traveling faster than the speed of light. Albert Einstein, it seemed, should be rolling over in his grave. His theory of relativity could be dead.

Not so fast. On Wednesday the CERN team said they had made a mistake, Science Magazine reported. Something had gone wrong with the timing gear, and with the optical fiber connection. Neutrinos, they said, probably don’t travel faster than light, at 186,000-miles-per-second. Or at least they haven’t been able to prove it yet.

“Always check the cable before doubting Einstein,” Forbes wrote with glee Wednesday. Five other reasons you should never doubt the father of modern physics after the jump.

His brain may have been better than ours.

Einstein’s brain had a greater number of glial cells per neuron, according to a study in the Lancet medical journal in 1999. The authors of the study said that more neurons indicated the brain had an increased “metabolic need,” meaning it needed and used more energy. “In this way, perhaps Einstein had better thinking abilities and conceptual skills,” University of Washington researchers wrote recently.

Einstein made highly complex subjects simple.

Capillary attraction. Brownian motion. Photons and energy quanta. Wave-particle duality. Einstein studied all of these phenomena and sought to break them down and articulate them simply. “Any intelligent fool can make things bigger, more complex, and more violent,” he once said. “ It takes a touch of genius — and a lot of courage — to move in the opposite direction.” During his free time, Einstein said he refused to play Scrabble or other games that required mental energy, to save that energy for his work .

So far, there has been no one like him.

Einstein, contrary to popular belief, did not win the 1921 Nobel Prize in Physics for his work on relativity. Back in 1905, Einstein wrote five ground-breaking essays that Encyclopedia Britannica says “forever changed man's view of the universe.” The Nobel Prize committee awarded Einstein for these papers, and for his overall “services to theoretical physics.” Since that award, generations of physicists and students have come to see Einstein’s word as law. Scientists have been hard-pressed to find another genius to replace him.

If Einstein was wrong, it probably would already have been proven.

Drexel University astrophysicist Dave Goldberg told National Geographic (NG) in August that if faster-than-light neutrinos did exist, it’s likely they would have been observed in nature before now.

In 1987, he said, detectors on Earth identified neutrinos and light particles (photons) from an exploding star. Both types of particles got to our planet at almost exactly the same time.

Even if Einstein were wrong, scientists wouldn’t stop listening.

Even if the CERN results were right and Einstein was wrong, it wouldn’t invalidate his theories of general and special relativity, Stanford University astrophysicist Louis Strigari told NG. Those theories — right or not — explain a remarkable range of observed phenomena in the universe, Strigari said.

“Even if relativity turned out to be wrong,” Goldberg said, “it's clearly very, very close to being right.”

By  |  09:42 AM ET, 02/23/2012

Tags:  National, CERN, theory of relativity, neutrino, speed of light

 
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