Future

Was Einstein Wrong? A French Experiment Could Upend The Very Basics Of Physics

Researchers from the French National Center of Scientific Research have found out that fundamental particles known as neutrinos can travel faster than light.

The end for Albert Einstein's century-old theory?
Cyrille Valerberghe

"If true," declares Thibault Damour, a French expert on Albert Einstein's theory of relativity "it's a genuine revolution for physics, a once-in-a-century kind of discovery." Big words indeed after a team of researchers at the Institute of Nuclear Physics in Lyon, France, discovered that extremely light particles called " subluminic neutrinos " can travel faster than light. This fact is something strictly impossible according to Einstein's special relativity, for which no object with a mass could travel faster than 299,792,45 meters (186,282 miles) per second, the speed of light.

If the measures turn out to be accurate, the finding would overturn the most fundamental rule of modern physics. The consequences would be so far-reaching that the researchers are being very cautious and asked for the experiment to be replicated elsewhere, with another team, before they think about dumping Einstein's relativity in the trash heap of scientific history.

Still, the experiment led by the French scientists appears to be very trustworthy. It resisted six months of scrutiny by researchers called in specifically to try and find a flaw or a mistake in the methods. "It's so huge that we're seriously scared that we blundered somewhere, " says Stavros Katsanevas, Deputy Scientific Director of the IN2P3 (National Institute of Nuclear Physics and Particle Physics).

"Since we got the first results in March, we've checked them again and again with CNRS, and then with the international OPERA experiment (Oscillation Project with Emulsion-tracking Apparatus), which performs tests on a neutrino detector. We haven't found anything yet, and the discovery was beginning to leak, so we decided to go public. "

A tiny lapse

A beam of neutrinos is apparently guilty for breaking the speed of light. These extremely light, weakly interacting particles were produced by the CERN (European Organization for Nuclear Research) particle accelerator, and were detected under the Gran Sasso mountain located in the Abruzzo region of central Italy. Scientists expected the neutrinos to travel freely through the 731 kilometers of Earth's crust separating the two scientific centers at a speed nearing that of light – a journey of approximately 2.5 milliseconds.

But to the researcher's astonishment, the neutrinos reached the OPERA detector about 60 nanoseconds (60 billionth of a second) earlier than light. A lapse that seems tiny, but which no current theory can account for.

The team of researchers estimates the margin of error of the combined instruments at approximately 10 nanoseconds, which is still well below the recorded 60-nanosecond lapse.

Read the original story in French

Photo - Wikipedia

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Economy

European Debt? The First Question For Merkel's Successor

Across southern Europe, all eyes are on the German elections, as they hope a change of government might bring about reforms to the EU Stability Pact.

Angela Merkel at a campaign event of CDU party, Stralsund, Sep 2021

Tobias Kaiser, Virginia Kirst, Martina Meister


-Analysis-

BERLIN — Finance Minister Olaf Scholz (SPD) is the front-runner, according to recent polls, to become Germany's next chancellor. Little wonder then that he's attracting attention not just within the country, but from neighbors across Europe who are watching and listening to his every word.

That was certainly the case this past weekend in Brdo, Slovenia, where the minister met with his European counterparts. And of particular interest for those in attendance is where Scholz stands on the issue of debt-rule reform for the eurozone, a subject that is expected to be hotly debated among EU members in the coming months.

France, which holds its own elections early next year, has already made its position clear. "When it comes to the Stability and Growth Pact, we need new rules," said Bruno Le Maire, France's minister of the economy and finance, at the meeting in Slovenia. "We need simpler rules that take the economic reality into account. That is what France will be arguing for in the coming weeks."

The economic reality for eurozone countries is an average national debt of 100% of GDP. Only Luxemburg is currently meeting the two central requirements of the Maastricht Treaty: That national debt must be less than 60% of GDP and the deficit should be no more than 3%. For the moment, these rules have been set aside due to the coronavirus crisis, but next year national leaders must decide how to go forward and whether the rules should be reinstated in 2023.

Europe's north-south divide lives on

The debate looks set to be intense. Fiscally conservative countries, above all Austria and the Netherlands, are against relaxing the rules as they recently made very clear in a joint position paper on the subject. In contrast, southern European countries that are dealing with high levels of national debt believe that now is the moment to relax the rules.

Those governments are calling for countries to be given more freedom over their levels of national debt so that the economy, which is recovering remarkably quickly thanks to coronavirus spending and the European Central Bank's relaxation of its fiscal policy, can continue to grow.

Despite its clear stance on the issue, Paris hasn't yet gone on the offensive.

The rules must be "adapted to fit the new reality," said Spanish Finance Minister Nadia Calviño in Brdo. She says the eurozone needs "new rules that work." Her Belgian counterpart agreed. The national debts in both countries currently stand at over 100% of GDP. The same is true of France, Italy, Portugal, Greece and Cyprus.

Officials there will be keeping a close eye on the German elections — and the subsequent coalition negotiations. Along with France, Germany still sets the tone in the EU, and Berlin's stance on the brewing conflict will depend largely on what the coalition government looks like.

A key question is which party Germany's next finance minister comes from. In their election campaign, the Greens have called for the debt rules to be revised so that in the future they support rather than hinder public investment. The FDP, however, wants to reinstate the Maastricht Treaty rules exactly as they were and ensure they are more strictly enforced than before.

This demand is unlikely to gain traction at the EU level because too many countries would still be breaking the rules for years to come. There is already a consensus that they should be reformed; what is still at stake is how far these reforms should go.

Mario Draghi on stage in Bologna

Prime Minister Mario Draghi at an event in Bologna, Italy — Photo: Brancolini/ROPI/ZUMA

Time for Draghi to step up?

Despite its clear stance on the issue, Paris hasn't yet gone on the offensive. That having been said, starting in January, France will take over the presidency of the EU Council for a period that will coincide with its presidential election campaign. And it's likely that Macron's main rival, right-wing populist Marine Le Pen, will put the reforms front and center, especially since she has long argued against Germany and in favor of more freedom.

Rome is putting its faith in the negotiating skills of Prime Minister Mario Draghi, a former head of the European Central Bank. Draghi is a respected EU finance expert at the debating table and can be of great service to Italy precisely at a moment when Merkel's departure may see Germany represented by a politician with less experience at these kinds of drawn-out summits, where discussions go on long into the night.

The Stability and Growth pact may survive unscathed.

Regardless of how heated the debates turn out to be, the Stability and Growth Pact may well survive the conflict unscathed, as its symbolic value may make revising the agreement itself practically impossible. Instead, the aim will be to rewrite the rules that govern how the Pact should be interpreted: regulations, in other words, about how the deficit and national debt should be calculated.

One possible change would be to allow future borrowing for environmental investments to be discounted. France is not alone in calling for that. European Commissioner for Economy Paolo Gentiloni has also added his voice.

The European Commission is assuming that the debate may drag on for some time. The rules — set aside during the pandemic — are supposed to come into force again at the start of 2023.

The Commission is already preparing for the possibility that they could be reactivated without any reforms. They are investigating how the flexibility that has already been built into the debt laws could be used to ensure that a large swathe of eurozone countries don't automatically find themselves contravening them, representatives explained.

The Commission will present its recommendations for reforms, which will serve as a basis for the countries' negotiations, in December. By that point, the results of the German elections will be known, as well as possibly the coalition negotiations. And we might have a clearer idea of how intense the fight over Europe's debt rules could become — and whether the hopes of the southern countries could become reality.

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