Sunday, 25 September 2011

Musings on neutrinos

As a Physics graduate I can't help but being a little excited over the discovery that something may have exceeded the speed of light.

Admittedly, my main interest at Uni was Atmospheric Physics, so if you want a discussion on saturated adiabatic lapse rates, thickness lines or how polar lows are formed, I'm your man, but on neutrinos and anti-matter I'm just about as clueless as the rest.

What sparked my disinterest in that side of physics was my introduction to the dual nature of light. It can be treated as a particle or a wave, I was told, depending on what you want to prove. Waves work best when studying diffraction and particles for other things (what, I'm not sure - you can see I was starting to lose interest already). What clinched it though, was when I was told that even a single particle would still obey the laws of diffraction, passing equally through two holes and interacting afterwards like a wave. Rather like a train splitting and each half going through a separate tunnel and joining up again at the other end. It's easy to see why physicists don't run the railways.

What confuses me though is why even eminent physicists are saying this could mean we can travel back in time. Call me a sceptic, but if this were at all possible at some time in the future, surely there would be even one account of someone in the past having met up with someone from the future carrying a mobile phone or something. On the other hand, maybe it's possible but we will have wiped ourselves out well before the H G Wells time machine even gets to prototype.

I can't even get to grips with the theory. Apparently, if I stood at the point in Italy where the neutrino arrived, I would have seen it arrive several nanoseconds before it left CERN. True, I would see it arriving, then see it leaving CERN, but that's only because the image of it leaving took a little longer - it still left before it arrived.

There's another thing I can't understand about all this. We're told that billions of these neutrino things pass through us every second. So how on earth do they know the ones they detected in Italy were the same ones they fired off at CERN. Do they each come with a bar code?

All very confusing. Think I'll stick to politics, where time travel to the past is possible. Cross into Midlothian and you travel back forty years.

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