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Broken law of radiactive decay and broken law of FTL

  1. Jan 5, 2012 #1
    There has been a suspicion that solar neutrinos can interfere with the rates of radioactive decay in isotopes. Could this mystery (somehow?)be tied to the neutrinos that are being recorded as 'faster than light'? For example the neutrinos pick up extra energy from the radioactive decay processes that happen in the earth?
  2. jcsd
  3. Jan 5, 2012 #2

    Simon Bridge

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    To start with, there is no reason to believe that picking up extra energy by any means will make anything go faster than light. Otherwise everything will be doing it. The theory being challenged predict the neutrinos would have to gain an infinite amount of energy to achieve that trick.

    It is very unlikely that solar neutrinos are responsible for the changes in observed radioactive decay rates ... neutrinos are too weakly interacting to account for the observations. It is far more likely that the Electromagnetic changes during big solar flares are responsible. When reading sensational stories, it is useful to keep a critical mindset...

    "FTL neutrinos" are most likely a mistake. When speculating like this, please bear that in mind. A promising paper has demonstrated that failing to keep track of the GPS satellites responsible for synchronizing the clocks creates almost exactly the same time discrepancy.... for example.

    So you are asking if three very unlikely conclusions could be related ... to say, "it is almost certain that they are not" does not put it strongly enough.
  4. Jan 5, 2012 #3
    What is it about your reply that annoys me?
  5. Jan 5, 2012 #4


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    He is justifying unknown physics with known physics, that's why. And there is nothing wrong with the GPS. What might happen is a problem of synchronization of the clocks in due to the degradation of the fiber optics between Gran Sasso and Geneve. Opera's researchers are thinking in other methods to calibrate the clocks, like traveling in a slow moving vehicle with an atomic clock between those places.
  6. Jan 5, 2012 #5
    Can they not pay a grad student to walk? And by "not pay" I mean ...
  7. Jan 5, 2012 #6
    I think you rub each other up the wrong way. One of you says "broken laws" the other says "Oh no, not this again" and you sort of wind each other up. I don't think it's anyone's fault, it's just the regular conflict of science vs hack newspapers.

    Just peace out a bit it'll be fine. I am sure no-one means to deliberately upset anyone else.

    Edit: If you put 'can X mean Y?' rather than "X broken! Einstein wrong!" then it asks the same question but without annyoing scientists, and then the scientists can reply without geting all "slap! slap! back to the school!"
  8. Jan 5, 2012 #7


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    Because his post is so straightforward, correct, and logical?
  9. Jan 5, 2012 #8


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    Both are very extraordinary claims that require extraordinary evidence. There are been a few studies have seem to have found seasons variation in radioactive decay of an unknown cause and have prompted researchers to consider causes that vary seasonally, such as solar neutrinos, shifts in position in the gravitational field, electromagnetic field fluxuations, etc. The underlying experimental evidence for systemic seasonal fluxuations in radioactive decay rates has not been convicingly replicated and is contrary to lots of other data indicating that nothing outside an atom other than its immediate status of being within or not within a bound composite particle, has any impact on decay rates. We also understand the fundamental physics that are involved in radioactive beta decay extremely precisely in the context of a theory that has few free parameters, so mechanisms that don't throw the baby out with the bathwater are hard to devise.

    Still, there is no harm in the intellectual exercise of assuming for sake of argument that the outlier season effects are real and trying to discern where they come from. Also tricky in this analysis is the fact that this seems to be observed in some isotypes, but not others. The solar neutrino theory would posit that the baseline radioactive decay rates we observe experimentally have an intrinsic component and an additional component that is induced by weak force interactions of neutrinos, that the weak force interactions of neutrions vary seasonally with solar neutrino flux, and that the energy shell structures of different isotypes affects the number of neutrons that are succeptible to this effect in a particular atom and hence gives rise to a measurable amount of seasonal variation in radioactive decay in some isotypes but not in others.

    None of this has anything at all to do with the possibility that neutrinos could travel at superluminal speed, which is what OPERA seems to have observed, what a couple of experiments that were taken not very seriously prior to OPERA seem to have observed, and what no one has yet found a way to disprove, seem to show. There are multiple very good papers that show that the observed behavior is inconsistent with a model in which at high enough energy, neutrinos become tachyonic in the sense of traveling faster than the constant that applies in the Lorentz equations of special relativity that have been proposed theoretically in the past. But, data are data and again, it doesn't hurt to assume for the sake of argument that the data are correct and see what kind of new physics that it would imply.

    For my druthers, the best class of theories, if this is the case, would be those that assume that the OPERA measured neutrino speed is the actual Lorentz speed limit, rather than the old canonical value for "c" that is one part per 10^5 smaller, and that there is systemic error in previous measurements of "c" that have tried to measure photon speed that are in the same nature as the refractive index of the atmosphere, that have been inadvertently omitted in previous measurements that are relevant only near matter-energy fields and not in deep space. Most of the criticisms of OPERA's result theoretically are based on the assumption (1) that the canonical value of "c" from experiment is an accurate measurement of the true vacuum value of the special relativity and general relativity constant "c" to accuracy much greater than one part per 10^5, and (2) that therefore neutrinos are true tachyons if the results are correct. But, systemic error on that minute a scale due to failure to account for some theoretical adjustment between the true vacuum speed of light and the measured speed of light seems more plausible to me if the OPERA results can't be shown to be flawed themselves.

    This is because we already know of lots of phenomena that cause the measured speed of light to be slower than the theoretical speed of light in a vacuum "c" (the atmospheric refractive index adjustment, for example, is one part per 10^5, and omissions of something similarly ephemeral like local magnetic fields aren't impossible to imagine) which arise from photon interaction with charged particles it encounters en route to its destination.

    If my line of reasoning on this issue is right, and if the OPERA results are really accurate, and if the solar neutrino hypothesis effect on radioactivity is actually valid (all of which are three great big ifs, but simply take a little time to think through and do no harm in examining because that is what theoretical scientists do anyway), then the bottom line answer to your original question is:

    No, they still have nothing to do with each other except that both involve properties and effects of neutrinos.

    As a footnote, neutrinos, in general, are kind of the "god of the gaps" in physics at the moment because they are one of the few parts of fundamental physics that are not extremely tightly constrained by experiment since they are so darned hard to measure experimentally because they don't interact via the strong or electromagnetic forces, and individually have such negligible mass that their quantum scale gravitational impact is very small. We have competing theories regarding how to put their mass into the Standard Model, and the chirality of the weak force interaction makes it impossible to know if there is another class of even more weakly interacting "sterile neutrinos" aka "right handed neutrinos" that interact via gravity as neutrinos do, but not via the weak force. So they are magnets for new physics proposals since they are one of the few moving parts left in fundamental physics.
    Last edited: Jan 5, 2012
  10. Jan 6, 2012 #9


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    I saw some articles a few months ago that showed a slight variation in decay rates for some isotopes in the scale of seconds or minutes. I think the likely cause was a time varying interference between nuclear states. Maybe that's what is happening in this case, but the variation is longer and has an yearly variation
  11. Jan 6, 2012 #10

    Simon Bridge

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    You're asking me??? Don't you know? Presumably this was a rhetorical question.

    It may be a difference in expectations ... as a scientist I expect any idea I voice to be eviscerated by my colleagues. Science is vicious like that. What you got was extremely tame by comparison.

    I'd rather encourage you to do more reading and mean to direct you at the gaps in your understanding I think I've seen.

    How about taking a look at the following science blog...
    ... look in the comments too? It may help you understand where I'm coming from and the post deals with one of the topics you are interested in.

    The existing physics puts constraints on the kinds of explanations that are likely... which kinds of experiments one is well-advised to try first.

    Any new physics must account for the old one ... or look like it will.
    OTOH: data is data ... one cannot rely on old physics to discover the truth of a synthetic statement - it will take an experiment.
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