Science Saturday: FTL Neutrinos Debunked + All-Electric Aircraft + Rename the VLA + Mysterious Sunrise + More

Welcome back to Science Saturday! This week: Debunk those faster-than-light neutrinos, take a flight in an all-electric aircraft, rename the Very Large Array, and see a mysterious Argentinian sunrise. All this and more, plus our gadget of the week: the throwable panoramic ball camera!


Faster-Than-Light Neutrino Mystery Claimed Solved via Special Relativity
It’s been three weeks since CERN scientists released the news that neutrinos had been measured moving faster than the speed of light between two laboratories, as measured by super accurate GPS. Since then, specialists have been pouring over the data looking for an explanation of the event. The general concensus is that the CERN scientists must have missed something, and that the neutrinos are still bound by the universal speed limit, c. Ronald van Elburg at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands has made a convincing argument citing special relativity as the culprit for the misfit neutrinos. It’s a rather complicated story, but simply put, van Elburg says that CERN scientists failed to account for the motion of the GPS satellites relative to the Earth. For most uses, this is a negligable effect, but when measurement accuracy needs to be within nanoseconds, this relativistic motion can make a big difference. In fact, according to van Elburg’s calculations, the adjustment for special relativity equates to about 64 nanoseconds, almost exactly the time discrepency observed at CERN.

Read more.

Concensus? Einstein’s still right.

NASA Awards Largest Prize in Aviation History for All-Electric Aircraft
NASA has awarded the largest prize ever given out in aviation history, that’s $1.35 million, to Team Pipistrel for their electric airplane, Taurus G4. The Taurus covered 200 miles in less than 2 hours, using the electrical equivalent of less than one gallon of fuel per passenger. The idea behind the NASA- and Google-sponsored CAFE (Comparative Aircraft Flight Efficiency) Green Flight Challenge has been to encourage the development of a new era of ultra-efficient aircraft that use either pure electricity or ultra-efficient fuel engines. Check out a video of the Taurus G4 below.

Very Large Array Radio Observatory Asks Public for New Name
The world’s most famous radio telescope, the Very Large Array (VLA), is looking for a new name to reflect its new capabilities. The VLA, featured in in films such as Contact, Armageddon, and Transformers: Dark of the Moon, has undergone a transformation known as the VLA Expansion project, which began in 2000 and increased the array’s capabilities by a factor of 8,000. The National Radio Astronomy Observatory has decided that the VLA needs a new name to reflect its new upgrades. The public are welcomed to submit their name ideas, and entries are being accepted until midnight December 1st. The new name will be announced January 10th, 2012.

Re-name the VLA!

Strange Sunrise over Argentina
The image below (click to embiggen), captured by a photographer in Buenos Aires, Argentina shows a new kind of sunrise phenomenon that no one can yet explain. The image is a combination of a normal and very short exposure so as not to oversaturate the bright sun, but the photographer saw this structure with his own eyes, indicating that it is not the effect of the camera or lens. Some speculate that the effect may be caused by low level clouds just thick enough to scatter sunlight but not so thick as to block out the sun. For now, it remains a mystery.

Click to embiggen

Gadget of the Week: Throwable Panoramic Ball Camera
As someone who frequently takes panoramic photos, I am super excited by this new concept: a throwable panoramic ball camera. Basically, it’s a ball (duh) with 36 mobile phone cameras facing in all directions. When thrown into the air, the camera detects when it’s at the apex of it’s trajectory, then takes all of the panoramic snaps at once. There’s even a computer program that will stick the photos for you and let you look around and zoom within the entire space. Unfortunately, this baby’s not for sale yet. But, the company is looking for investors and hopes to release the product to the public soon!

Upcoming Events
Check out these science related events happening soon:

  • American Museum of Natural History to screen Space Tourists
    Friday, November 11th at 8PM
    Tickets are $10-12
    The screening is part of the 35th anniversary Margaret Mead Film Festival

  • Launch of Mars Science Laboratory aka Curiosity Rover
    Friday, November 25th at 10:21am EST
    Watch live on NASA TV

  • World Space Week
    October 4th-10th
    Events are happening all over the world during World Space Week! Check their website for events near you!

Science Bytes
Not enough science for you? Here’s a warp-speed look at some more science tid-bits that are worth a peek.


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I'm Dead Jim!
October 15, 2011 7:28 am

Fascinating! First?

October 15, 2011 7:32 am

FIrst! Totally want that camera ball!

October 15, 2011 7:33 am

Panorama ball. I want to have that for me. Can you mount one of those suckers on an Estes rocket and get your whole neighborhood?

Einstein still rules. But, I hold out hope for loopholes, thanks to dark matter. Ah, it’s so cool to be utterly ignorant of whatever that stuff is. I can use it as my own personal red matter.

That is a wiiiiiiide airplane. Not sure I’d feel safe sitting in whichever cockpit has no controls. Still, nice to see the effort to bring down gas consumption. Wonder if you could make it about 300 fuselages wide… and super strong. That way, the underoo bomber could only blow himself to crap. That’d be cool. Everyone safe; clean-up in seat 217B.

As for Virgin… I definitely think it’s time for private enterprise (pun!!) to take over space flight. Maybe with gov’t backing. Hell, we’re buring so much money on wars and genetically-engineered carp, we might as well do that, too…

Thanks, Kayla!

October 15, 2011 7:34 am

OK, not first! Still want the camera ball!

October 15, 2011 7:50 am

This Thursday, ESA will launch the first Soyuz rocket from a spaceport outside of Kazakhstan or Russia

Blake Powers
October 15, 2011 7:57 am

Amazing how the debunking stories did not spread as fast as the “we broke the ultimate speed limit ,C,” story.

David no longer in Maine
October 15, 2011 8:13 am

Could it be a Fata Morgana at sunrise? Check out the wikipedia article: . The pictures there all show clouds (and that is how I have seen it), but what would it look like with the sun at the horizon? And how many photographers would have the equipment and skill to capture it (the article seems to imply that it was not easy to photograph). Ad perhaps the atmospheric conditions that cause Fata Morgana don’t usually occur at sunrise (I think the time I saw it it was probably late afternoon).

Captain Dunsel
October 15, 2011 8:18 am

“poring”, not “pouring”

Buzz Cagney
October 15, 2011 8:37 am

They forgot the satellites were moving? As a certain fat yellow gentleman would say…. ‘doh!’

We need more smartified scientists!

October 15, 2011 9:55 am

Nothing faster then light to see here, folks. Move along now…..

The sunrise photo is kinda cool, though. Ans at the speed of light, no less.

October 15, 2011 10:13 am

There was a question about the relativistic speeds of satellites on the IB Physics test a few years ago. And that is at the high school level. It’s hard to believe the CERN scientists would overlook something like that. Whoops. Maybe they should stop making cheesey rap videos…

October 15, 2011 10:45 am

The satellites are not a factor in the measurements as they claim. They probably use at least a dozen if not more. I can see one, maybe two being off. It’s not even realistic to say the GPS satellites being used were off, it’s just NOT possible to have that wide range of discrepancy with today’s technology.

It has more to do with researchers who don’t work at CERN to be proven wrong and lose the millions of dollars in research grants they get every year.

October 15, 2011 11:17 am

I don’t remember the VLA being in “Armageddon”. There was that awful opening scene with the amateur astronomer who evidently lives in the Mt. Wilson Observatory, though. And there was that laughable scene of the Hubble Telescope taking flash photographs (realism was obviously the last thing on the minds of the people who made “Armageddon”.)

12… I think a GPS fix uses three satellites. One for longitude, one for latitude, and one for elevation.

October 15, 2011 11:23 am

Bummer. The light speed limit SUCKS !!!!!

October 15, 2011 11:44 am

@14, people don’t even get Einstein’s theory right. He stated that nothing can travel at the speed of light, he never says things can’t travel faster than light and there are even theorized particles called tachyons that travel faster than light but can’t slow down to light speed.
I’m hoping humans can someday create a Einstein Rosen bridge that connects two points in space and time so travel to any point in space (and time) can be almost instantly, like a stargate or what Barclay did at the end of TNG episode “The Nth Degree” or even the way the Battlestar Galactica jumps thru space.
That would take the adventure out of racing around the galaxy as shown in Star Trek or Star Wars but to me space jumps or stargates seems to be the most likely way to really travel across the galaxy and eventually the universe. IMO.

Khan 2.0
October 15, 2011 1:25 pm

Matt Reeves to direct the Twilight Zone movie

wonder if JJ Abrams will be involved in any way?(like he was with Cloverfield)

October 15, 2011 2:54 pm

I guess the Dish Network has already been used for the VLA renaming huh?

October 15, 2011 5:27 pm

FTL Neutrinos Debunked – very interesting idea. When I first heard about the FTL neutrinos I assumed that the CERN scientists had merely identified the speed of light more accurately than was previously possible.

October 15, 2011 5:47 pm

I hate driving 671,000,000 miles per hour in a universe built for 9,572,340,598,273,509,283,752,308,975,432.

Sheldon Cooper
October 15, 2011 6:00 pm

There must be a perfectly cromulent explanation for that sunrise photo.

Dr. Cheis
October 15, 2011 6:55 pm

That Neutrino thing had me all excited when it was first announced. Darn, looks like we’ll have to find a different way to break the lightspeed barrier…

Red Dead Ryan
October 15, 2011 7:08 pm

I was cautiously optimistic about the possible faster-than-light neutrino. Sad to hear it was an error.

I still remain optimistic, however, of all the possibilities that are within are grasp, FTL travel included.

Red Dead Ryan
October 15, 2011 7:09 pm



October 15, 2011 8:27 pm

In 1955, Albert Einstein’s last words were lost to history (his American nurse didn’t understand German), but I like to think he was trying to say: “Watch out for those neutrinos. They have a lead foot.”

Here’s hoping….

October 15, 2011 9:16 pm

A GPS does use at least three satelites, but it’s inaccurate to say that one of them is for longitude, another for latttude, and the third elevation. It’s just old-fashioned triangulation, measuring the relative signal strength to determine how far you are from each satelite, forming a sphere around each of those satelites with a radius equal to the measurement you get, and then looking for the point of intersection to determine where you are in three dimensional space. Without at least three satelites it would be impossible to calculate your location with any kind of accuracy.

Canon Schmanon
October 15, 2011 10:01 pm

Einstein vindicated again! What a brilliant guy.

Buzz Cagney
October 15, 2011 10:55 pm

I’m just assuming the Enterprise engine’s have Einstein Compensators fitted,
Problem solved! ;-)

Buzz Cagney
October 15, 2011 10:58 pm

I do know my TOMTOM speed readout is more accurate that my car’s speedo. So maybe these satellites are being underestimated!
Admittedly I rarely approach the Speed of Light these days. What with the cost of petrol an all!

October 15, 2011 11:12 pm

Love the picture of Einstein, I bet he’s doing that right about now! :P

October 16, 2011 12:32 am


Buzz, I hope there’s a special lane for light-speed travelers over there. Hate to see a Sunday driver get his atoms spread over half of England by some lead foot with a white helmet.


Buzz Cagney
October 16, 2011 2:08 am

mate i’m happy to do the speed limit these days!
I wound the Laguna dci up to 90 last night on a very quiet stretch of the A419 and most enjoyable it was too! lol
Not sure i’d want to hit 3 figures though- its an instant ban. 8-/
Not much good when my job depends on my Licence.

I guess Speed Cameras wouldn’t even be able to register 299,792,458 metres per second though!

Talking of which i’ve managed to blag my way into helping out in the Sales Showroom today. I’m pretty excited. I’ve gone from being in a job I hated to being in the environment that I’ve wanted to be in since I was a kid in just a few months. It can happen, Vults. I hope it does for you too.


October 16, 2011 3:28 am

The VLA also features prominently in the classic movie 2010.

Captain Dunsel
October 16, 2011 9:10 am


I really wish people didn’t feel free to use that word as if it were a synonym for “I don’t like what you said.” OK – so you dislike the fact that I pointed out a gramnmatical error. But errors of grammar and terminology have consequences, *especially* in science reporting. And what you implied about my intent is way way out of line.

October 16, 2011 9:36 am

I know what why they measured neutrinos faster than light. It never occurred to them to think of space as the thing that was moving.


October 16, 2011 10:19 am

Is that a “Bird of Prey” in the photo just above the sunrise? Maybe it’s the TOS crew coming back to save a whale.

DeShonn Steinblatt
October 16, 2011 10:27 am

Real science is of no interest to Trekkies. That’s why these articles get so few comments.

October 16, 2011 10:57 am

This headline is inaccurate. FTL Neutrinos is far from debunked and the blog linked to is not very conclusive whatsoever. Use some inverted commas, eh?

October 16, 2011 1:06 pm


“Amazing how the debunking stories did not spread as fast as the “we broke the ultimate speed limit ,C,” story.”

Exactly. This was a sub point in an excellent novel by the late Michael Chrichton. Once misinformation gets out there it is difficult, if not impossible, to get corrected.

I highly recommend the book. I wish someone would turn it into a movie.


October 16, 2011 1:09 pm

Oops. Forgot to give the title of the book. It is “State of Fear”.

It also deals with conspiracy theories about global warming. Perhaps Mr. Orci should adapt it. :)


October 16, 2011 2:59 pm

Strange Sunrise over Argentina photo is not sun’s flare. i believe it was clouds. look very carefully…

October 16, 2011 3:04 pm

38. Creed…

I think you have things a bit backwards. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, and by asking someone to prove that the neutrinos traveled FTL, you’re asking someone to prove a negative… a classic logical flaw. CERN has to prove it did happen, it is not for us to prove that it didn’t.

Now we have the laws of physics that say CERN’s claim is impossible, and we have a strong explanation for their faulty data.

It’s over. Move on.

October 16, 2011 3:05 pm

42.. That should read “neutrinos didn’t travel FTL”

October 16, 2011 3:29 pm

Actually, Creed is 100% correct. CERN’s findings have not been debunked. The article clearly says “the argument” was made using accepted theory. Not experiments were conducted. You can not disprove experimental results with a hypothesis. The scientists at CERN have shared their results and methods. The scientific method dictates that peers try to replicate the experiment to see if the same or similar results are found and to test their hypotheses about flawed methods to see if those experiments disprove or confirm CERN’s findings. The onus IS on the scientific community to confirm or disprove the results. That is how science works: peer review, replication, confirmation or disproval.

October 16, 2011 3:41 pm

Here is a direct link to CERN:

The scientists at CERN did not, despite mainstream media’s hype, claim Einstein was wrong. They found shocking results and want their peers to help them confirm or disprove their findings. Basic science. But media as entertainment dictated ridiculous headlines and oversimplification of what was going on.

October 16, 2011 3:50 pm


That’s great to hear, Buzz! And you are definitely right. A couple of months ago I got in contact with the folks at Pixar. They have a workshop set up next spring for aspiring animators, and it looks as though I’ve got my foot in the door. “California, here I come!” :D

Battle-scarred Sciatica
October 16, 2011 4:54 pm

@36 Electron

That’s exactly what i thought…good shot of a bird of prey!

Buzz Cagney
October 16, 2011 6:23 pm

Oh Vults, i am absolutely delighted for you. Thrilled in fact. What exciting news. I hope it works out for you my friend. I”m sure you will grab the opportunity with both hands.

(Oh, and i sold a car yesterday! A lady came in absolutely certain she didn’t want a Yaris, by the time i’d finished she’d bought a new Yaris!
I think the salesman was quite amazed!)

October 16, 2011 6:51 pm


Hey, congrats! I wasn’t that familiar with the Yaris, so I had to look it up. Not a bad looking little car. Not terribly exciting either. Must have taken some fancy talk to convince her. Let me guess—you emphasized the mileage (that is, the miles per gallon), right? That’s a big selling point over here, anyway.

Buzz Cagney
October 16, 2011 7:24 pm

You know i’m really not sure what i said now lol
She came in a bit concerned that the car had a bit of a reputation as a ‘retired persons car’, which in fairness it does! I just suggested that ‘with age come’s wisdom’ haha
I took them on a test drive in the diesel version which, to be fair, is a cracking little car. Its quite the little rocket-ship actually. And does 60mpg with no effort at all.

After the test drive i handed them over to the Salesman and the next thing i knew they were standing at the Paypoint putting a deposit down!
I later asked the salesman how on earth he made that sale and he said he didn’t, i did! Apparently i was so enthusiastic about the car she was won over, or so she said, apparently. I was really chuffed.

And to start Monday off hearing that your career is heading in the right direction, well, happy days!