Hitches emerge as culprit in 'faster-than-light' particle (Update)

February 23, 2012

Scientists who last year found particles that appeared to break the Universe's speed limit are looking at two technical issues that could have skewed the controversial finding, CERN said Thursday.

The European Centre for Nuclear Research (CERN) confirmed a report by the journal Science on Wednesday that the team were verifying a cable connection that may have caused a flawed result.

"It may have caused a slight discrepancy, and they are checking to see if this is the case," CERN press officer Arnaud Marsollier told AFP by phone.

They are also verifying a timing instrument called an oscillator, he said.

"This is a complicated experiment with a multitude of cables and equipment," said Marsollier.

"The physicists have checked things out, are continuing to make checks and will check again. It (a technical flaw) is always possible, but they have been saying this from the very beginning."

The fuss began in September when CERN's so-called OPERA team cautiously announced that sub-atomic particles called neutrinos had travelled some six kilometres (3.75 miles) per second faster than the velocity of light.

The neutrinos were timed at their departure from CERN's giant underground lab near Geneva and again, after travelling 732 km (454 miles) through the Earth's crust, at their arrival at the Gran Sasso Laboratory in Italy.

To do the trip, the neutrinos should have taken 0.0024 seconds. Instead, the particles hit the detectors in Italy 0.00000006 seconds sooner than expected.

The findings sparked widespread scepticism because they contradicted Einstein's theory of relativity, which says the maximum velocity in the Universe is the speed of light.

The report on the Science Insider website of the prestigious US journal said the "60 nanoseconds discrepancy appears to come from a bad connection between a fibre optic cable that connects to the GPS receiver used to correct the timing of the neutrinos' flight and an electronic card in a computer.

"After tightening the connection and then measuring the time it takes data to travel the length of the fibre, researchers found that the data arrive 60 nanoseconds earlier than assumed," it added.

"Since this time is subtracted from the overall time of flight, it appears to explain the early arrival of the neutrinos."

The fibre optic cable is eight kilometres (five miles) long because the GPS receiver has to be placed above ground, Autiero explained.

The oscillator, also being verified by the OPERA team, is designed to synchronise the timing of each neutrino at their points of departure and landing.

In a statement, OPERA said the two issues "could significantly affect the reported result... (but) in opposite directions."

Dario Autiero, in charge of analysing measurement data for OPERA, told AFP he hoped experiments would resume "by the end of March," when CERN's Large Hadron Collider (LHC) starts up after the winter break.

Marsollier said the OPERA team are scheduled to report back in May, and there were no immediate plans to bring forward any announcement in light of the checks.

The OPERA team went over their results again and again for six months before going public with their announcement, where they sounded a loud word of caution.

"Their findings were a shock to them, which is why they have asked others to replicate the experiment and to carry out the same measurements," Marsollier noted.

Explore further: 'Faster-than-light' particles spark science drama

Related Stories

'Faster-than-light' particles spark science drama

December 9, 2011

Oh Albert. Did you get it wrong? In 2011, physics was shaken by an experiment which said the Universe's speed limit, enshrined by Einstein in his 1905 theory of special relativity, could be broken.

Physicists: Did neutrinos break the speed of light?

November 23, 2011

(PhysOrg.com) -- The revolutionary news that an experiment measured particles traveling faster than the speed of light drew varied ages and backgrounds to a standing-room only physics department forum, "Faster Than the Speed ...

Recommended for you

Two teams independently test Tomonaga–Luttinger theory

October 20, 2017

(Phys.org)—Two teams of researchers working independently of one another have found ways to test aspects of the Tomonaga–Luttinger theory that describes interacting quantum particles in 1-D ensembles in a Tomonaga–Luttinger ...

Using optical chaos to control the momentum of light

October 19, 2017

Integrated photonic circuits, which rely on light rather than electrons to move information, promise to revolutionize communications, sensing and data processing. But controlling and moving light poses serious challenges. ...

Black butterfly wings offer a model for better solar cells

October 19, 2017

(Phys.org)—A team of researchers with California Institute of Technology and the Karlsruh Institute of Technology has improved the efficiency of thin film solar cells by mimicking the architecture of rose butterfly wings. ...

Terahertz spectroscopy goes nano

October 19, 2017

Brown University researchers have demonstrated a way to bring a powerful form of spectroscopy—a technique used to study a wide variety of materials—into the nano-world.


Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

4.2 / 5 (5) Feb 23, 2012
I really hope this discrepancy gets re-tested and re-established. :-)
3.7 / 5 (3) Feb 23, 2012
Seems to me they should be using the speed of the neutrino (or photon) to measure the accuracy of their measuring equipment.
5 / 5 (8) Feb 23, 2012
When your experimental results seem to contradict a well-established law of nature, re-examine the experiment first.
"Nature always sides with the hidden flaw."
"The hidden flaw never stays hidden for long."
"A hidden flaw will always reveal itself at the most embarrassing moment."
2.2 / 5 (5) Feb 23, 2012
Heh heh heh The Black Swan problem with induction on the microscopic scale of mere cabling. Reality is fractally complex and trimmed to fit our Procrustean imagination.
4.8 / 5 (6) Feb 23, 2012
This is a complicated experiment with a multitude of cables and equipment

That's the biggest understatement pretty much... ever. For god's sake, our muon telescope, which consists of 3 plates and a target, has probably 30 cable connections. And that's a really simple instrument. Debugging this monster experiment must be nearly impossible.
1.7 / 5 (6) Feb 23, 2012
They're looking so hard for a problem that it's starting to look like explaining-away rather than explaining.
Jason Chapman
1 / 5 (3) Feb 23, 2012
I must say I am very disappointed with these findings. If nothing can travel faster than the speed than light then as a space faring species were dead in the water.
Were forever hearing about the Kepler Space telescope finding new planets orbiting distant stars.
On the website its says Kepler a search for habitable planets There are over seven billion on this planet, if the human race is going to thrive then the only place left to go is outside of our planet. Taking thousands of years to reach the nearest planet is simply impractical.
I am hoping that scientists see this problem and are working on it. I appreciate that there are scientists out who reject the notion of faster than light travel, because they have spent their professional lives basing their theories around Einsteins theory on relativity. But if we are to look to the stars then maybe well have to throw a few quantum theory rule books out of the window.
1.5 / 5 (8) Feb 23, 2012
I must say I am very disappointed with these findings.
As Einstein once said: "If the facts don't fit the theory, change the facts." In dense aether model the neutrinos (solitons of longitudinal waves) have a good reason for being slightly superluminal in the same way, like the photons (a solitons of transverse waves) have a good reason to be subluminal, at least in certain, IMO quite wide range of energies. The same stuffs actually follow just from certain - though very local - aspects of Einsteinian relativity, too. General relativity allows violation of special relativity in certain geometries (time holes). So now we have just wait for independent confirmation/refusal of results and for official peer-reviewed publications. These premature reports are indeed full of quantum noise.
1 / 5 (1) Feb 23, 2012
If nothing can travel faster than the speed than light then as a space faring species were dead in the water.

Not true. If antimatter has negative gravitational charge, then it will be possible to generate wormholes. Load one end of the wormhole in a probe, shoot it off near the speed of light, and a year later you can pass through it and travel hundreds of lightyears. And into the future.

This method doesn't violate the speed of light or anything else. So just pray we find a way to make wormholes.

Do the research/thinking before claiming I'm wrong, because I certainly have.
5 / 5 (3) Feb 23, 2012
Load one end of the wormhole in a probe, shoot it off near the speed of light, and a year later you can pass through it and travel hundreds of lightyears.

Well thats just not true. If one end of the wormhole stayed at Earth, and the other end was attached a probe travelling at near the speed of light (Lets assume for the moment this is possible) then a year later you'd be able to travel almost 1 light year throught the wormhole almost instantly. NOT hundreds of light years.

Also, you are correct that to generate a wormhole using our current understanding of physics we would need something called Negative Energy (NOT Negative Gravity. Although I assume you meant energy). However, to say that if we could generate Negative Energy then we could generate wormholes is a pretty big leap. Its theoretically proposed, that in no way means its physically achievable, only that it MAY be achievable.

Maybe check your research? :)
5 / 5 (1) Feb 23, 2012
As Einstein once said: "If the facts don't fit the theory, change the facts."

You realize that Einstein didn't actually say that. Someone else said it and plastered it all over the Internet in his name. Because Einstein would never say something that dumb.

I daresay resting your argument on that quote pretty much shows your caliber. Real scientists don't go around quoting people, they present their ideas logically - because pinning a famous name on something is ultimately meaningless and petty.
1 / 5 (6) Feb 24, 2012
Because Einstein would never say something that dumb.
He not only said it, he even did it. For example, what Einstein did was he adjusted his relativity theory by the constant in such a way, which fit the intersubjectivelly accepted "fact" of steady state Universe of his time - and he worried about it many times later. So that this quote is actually in good agreement with his personal experience. Even Charles Darwin's brother Erasmus used the bonmot "if the facts won't fit, then so much worse for the facts".
Real scientists don't go around quoting people
Historia magistra vitae est and repetition is mother of wisdom. Only stupid people don't learn from their predecessors, especially when they were a much more clever and insightful. And I'm not real, i.e. professional scientist, as I'm not taking salary for my research from anyone. I always do prefer to think correctly, rather than "scientifically".
1 / 5 (3) Feb 24, 2012
If antimatter has negative gravitational charge, then it will be possible to generate wormholes.
Tippler's cylinder (time machine) is based on such approach. But what you probably mean is the "negative sign of gravity" - not the "negative gravitational charge", which is quite different (and considerably more complex) concept. http://redshift.v...3str.pdf
5 / 5 (3) Feb 24, 2012
All''s well that ends well. The Opera team were stuck with their bizarre finding. Thus they had to bring it out. What I did not appreciate was to give a press conference on it, but I learned that this was pushed by somebody who is not member of the team, and the press easily jumped onto it. Now they probably have understood already the issue with their cable. Eternal shame (i.e., some shame) be on them. But they had no choice given how the process went. And they continued searching, and found this error months later. This is the only way to do science.
5 / 5 (2) Feb 24, 2012
And I'm not real, i.e. professional scientist, as I'm not taking salary for my research from anyone.

Physorg should frame this comment Rawippo. You may be delusional about everything else in the universe, but at least you can admit your not really a scientist.
not rated yet Feb 24, 2012
Actually negative gravitational charge is pretty simple. Just treat gravitational charge like any other charge under CPT symmetry. It actually makes sense since you would expect time reversal to invert 4-space.

Also, I'm not sure why you think it's a complex issue. Einstein's machinery is very straightforward, even if solutions to the differential equations can be monstrous.

Tippler's cylinder

I wasn't talking about any sort of truly fantastical construct like that. Just a wormhole, created in a lab, then you launch one end into space while holding on to the other. (I guess fantastic is a relative term ;P)

I always do prefer to think correctly, rather than "scientifically".

Not sure what this is supposed to mean.
5 / 5 (2) Feb 24, 2012
I always do prefer to think correctly, rather than "scientifically" - Clappo

What an oxymoron!
not rated yet Feb 24, 2012
If nothing can travel faster than the speed than light then as a space faring species were dead in the water.

If we can ever achieve relativistic speeds that won't be a problem.

Circumnavigating the Milky Way in a ship accelerating at 1g to 99.9% light speed, coasting then decelerating at 1g back to Earth would take about 25 years ship time.

But elapsed time on Earth would be well in excess of 100,000 years. So the problem is not that we couldn't colonise other planets, but simply that we could not communicate between settlements.

Of course I say "simply" but the energy requirements would just be bonkers :-)
not rated yet Feb 26, 2012
To colonise a remote planet, you do not actually need to send humans there, you could just send the information to produce a human there, and then procede to do so. This may be beyond current technology, but perhaps not as difficult as getting the energy to accelerate a human to 99.9% light speed.
not rated yet Feb 27, 2012
I wish people who often claim to be so broad minded would stop picking on Black Swans. Here in Australia we are up to armpits in them. :-)It's quite hemispherocentric to use Black Swans as an example of rarity. Widen out, folks! The world does not revolve around Nth America.. despite strongly held beliefs to the contrary
Feb 28, 2012
This comment has been removed by a moderator.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.