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Feb 23 2012

I have a plan for faster-than-light travel now

Both Phil Plait and Sean Carroll and Mano Singham are tentatively reporting that they may have an explanation for the recent anomalous report of neutrinos traveling faster than light: it may have been a case of a faulty connection in a timing circuit. If that bears out, it may be a bit embarrassing.

But it does suggest an important possibility. When we get around to building the first starship, don’t have those fussy, punctilious physicists wire it up. Gather a gang of sloppy slapdash biologists to stick it together with spit and chewing gum. We’ll have it going a heck of a lot faster than light than those experts can even imagine.

(Also on Sb)

42 comments

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  1. 1
    'Tis Himself

    Both Phil Plait and Sean Carroll are tentatively reporting that they may have an explanation for the recent anomalous report of neutrinos traveling faster than light: it may have been a case of a faulty connection in a timing circuit.

    Mano Singham had that story over six hours ago.

  2. 2
    Ogvorbis: Still failing at being human.

    Gather a gang of sloppy slapdash biologists to stick it together with spit and chewing gum.

    Since when have you been channeling McGyver?

  3. 3
    peterh

    Some fundies had earlier latched onto the “discovery” and even if it turns out to be a mechanical or procedural problem, they will doubtless continue to crow about “proof” of the laws of physics not being inviolate.

  4. 4
    PZ Myers

    Six hour difference over only a thousand miles of difference? We’re cruising at warp 2 already without even trying.

  5. 5
    echidna

    But it also shows the strength of science: it all hinges on the evidence. Repeatable evidence. Of course mistakes are made, and they are indeed embarrassing. But mistakes can be found, corrected, and we move on from there. People doing future experiments will take great care to test known problem areas first, just as they do now.

    It’s just that the margin for error is so small in this area of physics.

  6. 6
    echidna

    The story was on the BBC more than twelve hours ago.

  7. 7
    shouldbeworking

    Biologists can wire the ship, chemists can astrogate and physists can be the medical staff. The appendix is near the elbow right?

  8. 8
    4004bc

    But relativity is only a Theory!!!
    Where is the teaching of intelligent particle theory? Those neutrinos were bright enough not to get distracted on their journey towards the light, so got there quicker than the dumb ones who listened to the Einsteinists!
    However I may have a Mars probe in the garage that I knocked up last night out of old beer cans and lego…anyone got the NASA direct line.

  9. 9
    Anthony K

    This is the problem with science. It’s always changing. Unlike the Word of God.

    No, I don’t speak or understand Koine Greek, why do you ask?

  10. 10
    Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls

    I saw this last evening at SciAm and Discovery. The explanation made sense for the findings.

    Amen to Echidna #5. Science in action.

  11. 11
    AussieMike

    Everyone knows that the first rule with computers is if it aint working properly…..
    1. REBOOT
    2. CHECK THE CONNECTIONS!!
    DUH!!!

  12. 12
    Randomfactor

    So the secret of warp drive is to leave the connector just a LITTLE bit loose from the dilithium crystal array?

    And then brew a cup of tea, earl grey, hot…

  13. 13
    Azkyroth Drinked the Grammar Too :)

    However I may have a Mars probe in the garage that I knocked up last night

    Oh, great, now we have an example of mechanical systems evolving. O.o

  14. 14
    mnb0

    Is PZ getting old and slow? Dutch newspaper Trouw already had the news more than 20 hours ago.

    http://www.trouw.nl/tr/nl/6700/Wetenschap/article/detail/3196881/2012/02/23/Neutrinodeeltjes-mogelijk-toch-niet-sneller-dan-het-licht.dhtml

  15. 15
    joed

    asimov says you can’t go faster than light! says, what happens if your “ship” hits an atomic particle at the speed of light. there are many other problems too.
    Starships will have to bend or warp space and then the standard 17,000 mph will be just fine to get anywhere in the universe.

  16. 16
    JoeBuddha

    Reminds me of the Bistromathic Drive. It might just work!

  17. 17
    mrcrowley

    Quantum Diaries is reporting that there also may have been an error with the GPS that would have the OPPOSITE effect! So they have to rule out the GPS problem as well as the cable one.

  18. 18
    Aliasalpha

    @Randomfactor: hot earl grey tea might also be handy if they were trying to build an infinite improbability generator

  19. 19
    dianne

    And then brew a cup of tea, earl grey, hot…

    Tea substitute. Share & enjoy!

  20. 20
    dianne

    @11: Check the power switch too. I had one of those conversations with tech support once…

    Me: The printer’s not working and I need it for clinic. HELP!

    Tech support: Did you try rebooting?

    Me: Yes. Didn’t work.

    TS: Did you check that it’s on?

    Me: Yes. (Thinking “Geez! I’m not THAT much of an end user.”)

    TS: Can you look at the connections?

    Me: Ok. (Look at connections…and printer…realize that while computer is on, printer is not…turn on printer) Hey, look, it spontaneously started working! (An lie from embarrassment.) Thanks for your help!

    TS: No problem. Bye.

    I’ve always wondered if they guessed the truth.

  21. 21
    slc1

    Re #1

    The spaceman Phil Plait had the story yesterday.

  22. 22
    dianne

    Thanks to a loose cable on my computer, I knew about it 3 days ago.

  23. 23
    doktorzoom

    I wonder if they’ve tried turning it off and on again?

  24. 24
    StevoR : Free West Papua, free Tibet, let the Chagossians return!

    Dangnabbit. I was hoping for a real serious plan for FTL travel there.

    Umm, can you at least try to work on genetically engineering those spacetime folding squid-like navigators from the Dune movie please?

    Or failing that work on immortality or at least thousands of years long lives and space ecologies that can be sustained so we can last out the journey if we can’t get past C.

    Please?

  25. 25
    peterwhite

    @dianne
    Having worked in tech support for about 10 years I would say that they probably did guess the truth. We had ways of figuring out what was really happening despite the customer’s protests to the contrary.

    I used to trick some customers into admitting they were lying by asking them to try things I just made up. The honest ones would tell me they had never heard of a ‘Thelman Wire’ (or whatever) and the liars would say they already checked it.

  26. 26
    garydargan

    Some 40 years ago my mate and I both geology undergrads getting our neurons fried trying to comprehend Physics II. We had carefully wired up our experimental circuit according to the diagram in the prac notes. Being dutiful little undergrads we checked as required with the Physics Prof before firing it up. Prof tut-tutted, pulled it all apart and reconnected it then through the switch. the smell of hot insulation filled the air and two very expensive meters went up in smoke.

    Moral: If you want spectacular and unexpected results, stick with the physicists, they know how to stuff things up big time. http://news.cnet.com/8301-11386_3-10120215-76.html

  27. 27
    radpumpkin

    Not warp 2, just 0.999999999999969119c relative to the stationary object, which causes a t+6 hour time delay. In other words, the minimal time to transverse 1000 miles (in vacuum to make the math easier) is 0.005368s, which would be analogous to the minimal time needed to receive the signal of the published story. If we take the definition of the original series, warp 2 would be 8c, which would correspond to a an imaginary contraction factor. If by some mathematical wizardry I were to make the imaginary component real (and make the result completely unrepresentative of any actual data), I would indeed get two negative delays, such that the signal would arrive earlier than it should be possible. What can I say, I really don’t want to study right now…

  28. 28
    Serendipitydawg(rebel without paws)

    The other thing about this entire story was the response of every physicist that I saw interviewed: they all thought the results would turn out to be wrong but they were positively buzzing at the prospect that they would turn out to be right (even Jim Al-Kalili, who would have had to eat his boxer shorts).

    Also, kudos to the OPERA team for having the nerve to report the anomaly – it came from careful measurement, albeit potentially subtly flawed, it isn’t as though they were making stuff up.

  29. 29
    'Tis Himself

    Check the power switch too.

    It helps if the O-N/O-F-F switch is in the O-N position.

  30. 30
    rufus

    I’ll have to have a good chuckle with my dad (retired electronic engineer who spent the first half of his career working for high-energy physicists, before moving to fusion vessel containment) over this one.

    In his technical opinion, he wouldn’t trust the average physicist with the access required to misinstall a circuit to be able to wire a mains plug without adult (i.e. engineer or technician) supervision.

  31. 31
    Louis

    All of you claiming that so-and-so had the story first. Bah! I had the story over 300 years ago when superluminal neutrinos from a supernova informed me…

    …wait…BUGGER!

    Louis

    P.S. Barman: We don’t serve your kind in here.
    [A neutrino walks into a bar]

  32. 32
    julietdefarge

    I have a mastiff who makes wookie noises; he’s your go-to guy for spit.

  33. 33
    David Marjanović

    As comment 17 says, there’s another potential problem with another device (an oscillator that reduces random error) that may have caused a bias in… the other direction! Maybe the neutrinos were even faster than measured!

    Terse press release by CERN.

    It helps if the O-N/O-F-F switch is in the O-N position.

    ON is short for ohnehin nichts (“nothing anyway”), so you may always press that button without causing harm.

    The first to get the reference gets an Internet made from fresh lavender cookies.

  34. 34
    leftwingfox

    Anyone else had an image of a bunch of Far Side labcoat scientists at Space Mountain in Disneyland looking at their readouts and screaming “Warp 5! Warp 6! Eat THIS Hawking!!”

  35. 35
    dianne

    The honest ones would tell me they had never heard of a ‘Thelman Wire’ (or whatever) and the liars would say they already checked it.

    The Thelman wire was fine, but the Louisen screw might have been a little loose.

  36. 36
    sidneyschwab

    Here’s my take on it from yesterday. Big relief.

  37. 37
    viggen111

    Gather a gang of sloppy slapdash biologists to stick it together with spit and chewing gum. We’ll have it going a heck of a lot faster than light than those experts can even imagine.

    That would be an adventure: we’d find out that Jupiter is Lightyears away;-)

  38. 38
    bodach

    Wiring? Pffft.
    Calvin could travel into the future in just a cardboard box. Not faster than light, but still.

  39. 39
    Serendipitydawg(rebel without paws)

    P.S. Barman: We don’t serve your kind in here.
    [A neutrino walks into a bar]

    I thought it was “no charge”, or is that just for neutrons that walk into a bar…

  40. 40
    Hank_Says

    Faulty cable? Should’ve used Monster Cable. A million shut-in “audiophile” wankers can’t be wro – oh, right, they can.

  41. 41
    Holms

    When we get around to building the first starship…

    Sorry, Sagan beat you to it by some decades. Another scoop for the physicists!

  42. 42
    Jadzia626

    We’ll have it going a heck of a lot faster than light than those experts can even imagine.

    You mean in a “the speedometer says Warp 5, but why is that grandma on a bicycle overtaking us” kinda way?

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