Jag Venugopal's Blog

September 22, 2011

Faster than the speed of light?

Filed under: Uncategorized — Jag @ 9:00 pm

The world of physics is abuzz with the news that researchers in Switzerland and Italy have discovered subatomic particles known as neutrinos that can travel faster than the speed of light.

Much of physics is based on an assumption that nothing can travel faster than the speed of light. In fact, it is this assumption that causes clocks to slow down on GPS satellites, and allows for the theoretical possibility of slowing down aging (just go round and round the earth at or near the speed of light. Your clock will run slower than the clocks on terra firma. After a while, the  accumulated differential will make you noticeably younger than the poor souls that did not hitch the same ride as you).

It is also this assumption that makes Star Wars fiction. You cannot visit other galaxies within your lifetime if you’re constrained to never be able to go faster than the speed of light. With the Milky Way being 100,000 light years across, its a given you won’t be able to cross a thousandth of its diameter even if you set off in infancy on a rocket traveling as fast as the speed of light.

On the other hand, if these sprightly neutrinos do indeed travel faster than the speed of light, then the obvious conclusion is that the speed of light is not an absolute limit. There may be other things, as yet undiscovered, that travel even faster. And, we or our descendants may yet get to ride on the Millennium Falcon with its hyperdrive motivator blazing us away to other galaxies.


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