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La verdad sobre los neutrinos que superan la velocidad de la luz

Publicado por Ismael

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La noticia revela que científicos han conseguido medir la velocidad de los neutrinos y éstos se mueven a mayor velocidad de la luz, lo que parece demoler uno de los principios básicos de la Teoría de la Relatividad de Albert Einstein.

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La interesante noticia ha invadido en las pasadas horas la prensa científica de todo el mundo. Un grupo de científicos que trabajan en el detector OPERA, situado a 730 kilómetros del colisionador de partículas LHC del CERN, el Centro Europeo para la Investigación Nuclear de Ginebra, ha revelado el resultado de un experimento con partículas subatómicas que parece mostrar que éstas se desplazan más rápido que la velocidad de la luz.

El científico del CERN Antonio Ereditato ha contado en una entrevista que tres años de mediciones han mostrado que los neutrinos se movían 60 nanosegundos más rápido que la luz en esa distancia de 730 kilómetros entre Ginebra y Gran Sasso, en Italia.

Los neutrinos son partículas subatómicas de tipo fermiónico, sin carga y espín 1/2. Se sabe ya que estas partículas tienen masa, pero muy pequeña y muy difícil de medir. De hecho, se calcula que su masa es inferior a una milmillonésima parte de la masa de un átomo de hidrógeno.

Practicamente toda la prensa finaliza la noticia con la coletilla de que este descubrimiento promete ser inconsistente con la Teoría de la Relatividad de Albert Einstein, que sostiene que nada puede desplazarse más rápidamente que la velocidad de la luz. Es la nota científica soñada para esa prensa que sólo informa sobre golf cuando alguien mete un hoyo en uno.

En realidad esto no es exactamente así. Lo que afirma la teoría es que no es posible acelerar ninguna partícula hasta alcanzar la velocidad de la luz. Cuanta más alta su velocidad, mayor la cantidad de energía necesaria para acelerarla, y según esa velocidad se acerca asintóticamente a la de la luz, aquella energía se acercaría al infinito. Pero eso no se aplica a partículas que llevan desde el Big Bang ya desplazándose a mayor velocidad que la de la luz.

La teoría cuántica de campos, de hecho, predice la existencia de los taquiones. Una partícula hipotética con la característica de que si su energía y momento son reales, su masa en reposo convencional resulta ser un número imaginario. La consecuencia es que una partícula así nunca puede ir a velocidades inferiores a la de la luz, por que su energía disminuye cuando su velocidad aumenta. Los taquiones juegan un papel en la teoría de cuerdas, clave en el mundo cuántico, pero la explicación de su hipotético comportamiento no debería suponer una violación de la relatividad especial de Einstein.

Merece la pena repetirlo porque ayuda a entender mejor este tipo de noticias. La Teoría de la Relatividad de Einstein no dice que no puedan existir partículas que se mueven a más velocidad que la luz. Lo que dice es que es imposible acelerar hasta ese límite partículas que se muevan a una velocidad inferior.

¿Qué pasa entonces con los neutrinos? Lo explica el profesor de astrofísica Dave Goldberg, quien sospecha que algo falla en la presentación de los resultados del experimento. Avisa de que en efecto los neutrinos tienen masa, lo que explica sus oscilaciones, y de que en efecto sí debería estar prohibido que una partícula con masa real (no imaginaria como la de los taquiones) viaje a mayor velocidad que la luz.

El resultado del experimento dice que sobre un viaje con una duración de 3 ms. los neutrinos “ganan” a la luz por 60 ns. Imaginemos la explosión de una supernova, por ejemplo la 1987A. Sucedió a 160.000 años luz de la tierra. Resulta que los neutrinos y los fotones de la explosión alcanzaron nuetro planeta al mismo tiempo. En realidad los neutrinos fueron detectados tres horas antes, por artificios ópticos que suceden durante una explosión similar. Si el resultado del experimento fuese aplicable, deberíamos haber detectado neutrinos de la 1987A ¡tres años antes de llegar a poder ver la explosión! Sin duda, algo que los científicos deberían haber notado.

¿Qué ocurre aquí? Resulta que los neutrinos detectados de la 1987A fueron anti-neutrinos electrón, no neutrinos tau. Sin embargo, los neutrinos oscilan de un sabor al otro, así que no debería ser una diferencia notable. Las energías también son distintas, las de la explosión de la 1987A en el rango de decenas de megaelectronvoltios. Las energías usadas en OPERA han sido dos órdenes de magnitud superiores. Bien podría este hecho marcar una diferencia.

El propio Erediato afirma que no están presentando ninguna conclusión, únicamente una serie de datos para el escrutinio científico que sería deshonesto dejar guardada en un cajón. Lo deja muy claro Chang Kee Jung, físico especialista en neutrinos de la Universidad Stony Brook de Nueva York. “No me apostaría mi mujer y mis hijos a que hay un error sistemático en alguna parte, pero sí apostaría mi casa”.

Si se demuestra la validez de los resultados, estaríamos ante uno de los descubrimientos más importantes en el mundo de la física del pasado medio siglo. Pero hasta que se demuestre, nos queda una temporada de resultados muy interesantes que alimentarán nuestra pasión por la física. Agárrense, que vienen curvas.

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    Pero deberías delimitar bien cuales son las citas y los párrafos que son traducciones literales de otros artículos.

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