Einstein May Still Be Right – 'Faster Than Light Neutrinos' Now Thought Due to Faulty GPS System

Not so fast…Controversial neutrino experiments showing faster-than-light-speed travel may have been due to equipment installation errors…

September, 2011 claims by physicists at CERN that they had probably made sub-atomic particles (called neutrinos) travel faster than the speed of light, are now being questioned and attributed to a faulty GPS system, amongst other possibilities. These earlier, particle accelerator results — which some called ‘revolutionary’ — were viewed with much skepticism by many scientists, as their results, if true, would mean that Einstein’s Special Theory of Relativity is wrong: somethings can travel faster than light speed.

In fairness, researchers working on the OPERA experiment (as it is called) that made the original measurements were highly cautious, and would only state that they had found “a discrepancy” that they could not attribute to mere signal noise. But the world’s science press was quick to pick up on the early (unverified) results and the story ended up making the ‘science story of the year’ list.

But Early Thursday morning GMT, OPERA experiment has issued an official statement:

The OPERA collaboration has informed its funding agencies and host laboratories that it has identified two possible effects that could have an influence on its neutrino timing measurement. These both require further tests with a short pulsed beam. If confirmed, one would increase the size of the measured effect, the other would diminish it. The first possible effect concerns an oscillator used to provide the time stamps for GPS synchronizations. It could have led to an overestimate of the neutrino’s time of flight. The second concerns the optical fibre connector that brings the external GPS signal to the OPERA master clock, which may not have been functioning correctly when the measurements were taken. If this is the case, it could have led to an underestimate of the time of flight of the neutrinos. The potential extent of these two effects is being studied by the OPERA collaboration. New measurements with short pulsed beams are scheduled for May.

So, verification of either of these two effects won’t be officially confirmed for a few more months, at least. And once again, like the Higgs boson results, the world awaits confirmation of a potentially game-changing, particle physic experiment…

Earlier Rumblings

Early on Wednesday, Feb 22, news reports were already circulating within the science press community that the September, 2011, ‘faster than light’ neutrino experiments (known as OPERA) at the Swizz high energy physics lab known as CERN, may have been due to a faulty cable hook-up in the GPS system that serves as the accelerator’s ‘master clock’. This possibility — that a loose cable connection caused the erroneous results — was still being investigated as of Wednesday evening, EST.

According to an earlier report from Science, after tightening the connection and re-measuring the time of data delivery from CERN to the Gran Sasso lab (in Italy), researcher discovered that the data traveled 60 nanoseconds faster than previously believed — the exact time difference seen in their experiments!

Prior to this, however, Claudio Germana of the Astronomical Observatory of Padova, Italy, had suggested that there was possibly a problem with the “synchronization of clocks” used in the original experiments.

How were the OPERA experiments different from other particle experiments?

In “typical” particle accelerator experiments, tiny particles (like protons and neutrinos) are accelerated to very high speeds and energies and then smashed into each other, breaking them up into even smaller particles than last for mere billionths of a second before decaying.

Sometimes, at just the right energy level, a new particle is detected. However, this smashing of particles generates a good deal of “noise” (natural flux/randomness in the signals) which can sometimes generate a false signal. Thus, scientists must carry out a number of verifications steps to demonstrate that a signal was genuine, and not the result of background flux.

In the OPERA experiments (OPERA stands for Oscillation Project with Emulsion-Racking Apparatus), the goal was to distinguish oscillations caused by one type of neutrino (tau neutrinos) from another type (muon neutrinos) by accelerating them to never before achieved speeds (note: in these experiments, researchers started out with firing protons at a carbon target to eject release other sub-atomic particles [kaons and pions] which then decay into the desired neutrinos).

Example of a Neutrino Detector, 2000 meters underground; the Sudbury Neutrino Observatory (SNO) is sensitive to all types of neutrinos

And so, these neutrinos — millions of which are zipping through you right now every second — were given a powerful electromagnetic jolt and sent through an underground tunnel 450 miles (730 km) away in Gran Sasso, Italy, at the end of which was a neutrino detector. According to the preliminary detector results, the quantum particle reached its destination 60 nanoseconds faster than would a particle of light — that’s 60 billionths of a second — with a margin of error of just 10 nanoseconds.

It was the GPS system that was integral for measuring this speed; by precisely measuring the distance from particle ejector to detector, the speed of data (the neutrino particle) can also measured.

CERN (the European Organization for Nuclear Research) is located outside Geneva, Switzerland, and is the world’s largest particle physics research laboratory and home to the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), the world’s most powerful particle accelerator (note: the LHC was not used in this experiment).

If verified, these experimental results would have been “revolutionary” say some scientists. However, others say probably not,even if they had been proven to be real, for they would most likely have to draw energy from a “background field” that only they (the neutrinos) could interact with, leaving Einstein’s famous light speed constant (mostly) intact.

See the original Planetsave article: CERN: ‘Speed of Light Exceeded’ (Maybe) – Physics World Excited, but Skeptical’ with additional information about faster than light phenomena, tachyons and causal paradoxes!

Bottom photo: (neutrino detector) Srbauer at de.wikipedia

3 thoughts on “Einstein May Still Be Right – 'Faster Than Light Neutrinos' Now Thought Due to Faulty GPS System”

    1. Mr McEwen

      Thanks for your comment.

      I think the world’s science press is as “guilty” (for lack of a better word) as any scientist at CERN. In fact, both the scientists at CERN, and the science press, reported the preliminary results with a good degree of caution and skepticism (see my earlier post). If they are guilty of anything it is succumbing to the pressure to produce and announce “breaking news” results prematurely.

      Faulty equipment (connections) may be “sloppy” (although the error was discovered), but hardly compelling evidence of incompetence. WE should also keep in mind that this equipment error has not been OFFICIALLY confirmed yet, and won’t be for another few months.

      As to CERN being some sort of “stealth” weapons research lab…any ‘big science’ lab or installation (and its technology or experimental results) could conceivably have “dual use” applications.

      However, there is no evidence that particle acceleration research and/or technology (the main research purpose/focus of CERN) is being used for weapons of any kind. Rather, the research is to advance physics and our knowledge of the Universe and its fundamental workings.

      Even Reagan’s ‘star wars’ proposal for a space-based particle beam weapon was deemed too expensive, too technically problematic, and too easily sabotaged [the Soviets, at the time, stated that they would simply release large quantities of sand into orbit, effectively destroying the weapon]…fantasy vs. reality, there.

      Fears over the LHC (“mini black holes”, etc.) and other high-energy projects are (and have always been) hugely over-blown. As Nietzsche once said: “Fear is the Mind killer.”

      A little bit of accurate information — of true knowledge — can go a long way towards alleviating one’s fears over the uses of complex scientific technology.

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