Monday, November 21, 2011

Interesting times in the world of science

A couple of interesting reports caught my eye on the science wires today.

The first was the result of further experiments designed to try and prove or disprove recent observations which hinted that neutrinos may have been observed traveling faster than the speed of light.

Back in September, scientists working in Italy as part of the OPERA collaboration announced the results of an experiment that shook the very foundations of modern physics. They produced data that was at odds with the predictions of Einstein's theory of general relativity.

Numerous peer reviews of the experiments failed to turn up any explanations for the data which suggested that neutrinos had been observed traveling at faster-than-light speed -- but the underlying belief was that it was the experiment at fault, not Einstein's theories.

In an attempt to solve the mystery, another experiment was performed last week -- yet the results are consistent with the first and still indicate that a stream of neutrinos released from CERN arrived in Italy faster than it would take a beam of light to traverse the same distance.

The importance of these findings is so great that the scientists involved are still focused on searching for any possible alternative explanation for what they've observed. Stay tuned, this will be a very interesting outcome -- either way.

Another exciting report was practical proof of theoretical predictions relating to the Casimir Effect.

In theory, the Casimir Effect would allow energy to be extracted from a vacuum, simply by positioning two plates a microscopically close distance apart.

Quantum physics predicts that if the plates were close enough, a force would appear that tried to push them together. This is because, subatomic particles are supposedly constantly popping in and out of existence and if the plates are close enough, there is insufficient room for many to "pop into existence" between the plates but plenty of room for them to do so on the other side of those plates.

The net result would be a pressure that worked to push the plates together -- at least that is the theory.

As part of this theory, the Casimer Dynamical Effect says that a mirror traveling at near light-speed through a vacuum will itself produce light, as it encounters the transient photons that "pop in" ahead of it.

Scientists have been unable to test this theory due to the difficulty in accelerating object with the mass of a mirror to a sufficiently high speed. However, by using a piece of quantum equipment called a SQUID (a superconducting quantum interference device), they have produced the same effect using microwave signals.

What does this mean?

Well it proves that even the most absolute vacuum does contain energy and perhaps one day we will be able to extract that energy.

If ground-breaking scientific discoveries in the field of physics are like most other things, big news will probably come in threes.

I wonder what's next?

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