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Entry 589, on 2007-08-17 at 19:41:35 (Rating 1, Science)

Two German physicists are claiming they have measured photons travelling faster than the speed of light. They are suggesting the photons have tunneled at what they think might be infinite speed. Tunneling is a recognised quantum effect but relativity doesn't allow anything to travel faster than the speed of light in a vacuum (about 300,000 kilometers per second) so who's right?

Sheesh, I don't know. A quantum optics expert has suggested that the speed of light isn't really being broken in this case, but I would have to look at his justification for this to decide whether that makes sense to me.

The fact remains that there is a tension between relativity and quantum mechanics, most notably in the area of general relativity and gravity, but now also showing up in this example of light. For almost 100 years physicists, including Einstein himself, have been trying to merge the two theories into a coherent whole. It will be the greatest achievement of theoretical physics in recent times when it is finally achieved, but I must admit that there doesn't seem to be a lot of progress at the moment.

Obviously its an extremely difficult problem and its interesting that no matter how subtle and counter-intuitive our theories become, there seems to be an even more bizarre layer beneath the surface waiting to emerge. Quantum physics and relativity are so fascinating themselves but I suspect the new theory might make them look tame!


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