Jon de Vos: No singing fat ladies
Fraser, CO Colorado
Man, do I love opera.
No, no, not the one where the fat lady sings, I mean the 1,500 ton particle detector named Oscillation Project with Emulsion-tRacking Apparatus (OPERA). This fat lady is buried in Italy’s underground Gran Sasso National Laboratory and plays catcher to neutrinos pitched from the CERN particle accelerator 450 miles away in Switzerland.
Neutrinos are unimaginably tiny particles produced mainly by nuclear reaction. They are so small that they pass through matter as if it were empty space. Countless billions pass through our bodies every second we stand in the sun. Then they pass unimpeded through the earth beneath us. They were first postulated back in 1930 by Wolfgang Pauli, a German scientist, to explain the observable differences over time in the energy of radioactive decay.
Wang Ganchang was a Chinese nuclear physicist. At age 23 in 1930, his research led directly to the discovery of the neutron, for which English physicist James Chadwick won the Nobel prize in 1935. The neutron is the neutrino’s massive big brother.
In 1941, Wang’s research led directly to the detection of the neutrino in 1956, for which American physicists Reines and Cowan won the Nobel prize. The Nobel committee, not adhering to any old, faster-than-light schedule, kept them on the edge of their seats for 39 years, finally awarding them the Nobel in physics in 1995.
Finding a neutrino that traveled faster than light would rock today’s world, if not the universe. Einstein, God rest him, was spinning in his grave like a top.
Like scientists everywhere, they were careful, studying the event for three years and timing over 16,000 particles before Antonio Ereditato, spokesperson for OPERA announced, “Goldurn, them suckers are quick. We turned on a flashlight, you know, to have a race with the little guys. Turns out there’s these darn mountains in the way, so we had to pull a tape and use a stopwatch. We figure neutrinos are traveling faster than light. We could be wrong.” You understand, my Italian sucks, but you get the drift. According to Tony, the particles arrived in Gran Sasso before they left CERN.
Well, that means we could send messages back in time. Some might want to send the discovery of antibiotics back to doctors before the Civil War; others might want to caution Benjamin Franklin and John Adams about Toxic Assets and Credit Default Swaps. Still others would want to find out if Jesus’ eyes were really blue like all the paintings.
Me? I’d do all of the above and even throw in some other noble acts, too.
Turns out OPERA was wrong, doggone it. Something about the conversion of meters to feet, or maybe it was just Einstein’s Theory of Relativity in action. They were a little sheepish a few days later when Marilyn vos Savant politely corrected their math in her column.
Too bad, I could see it now, “Hi, Jon, this is tomorrow’s Jon . . . well, no, actually I’m today’s Jon and you’re yesterday’s Jon but none of that matters because here’s today’s Powerball numbers which you’ll need yesterday for tomorrow’s drawing.
It would get confusing.
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