Photo by Fabrice Coffrini/AFP/Getty Images.
Remember those faster-than-light neutrinos? Scientists at CERN have detected two possible errors that may have produced the unbelievable results of an experiment that, if correct, would have given all of physics a panic attack.
The results of the original experiment were announced in September 2011, after a neutrino beam fired from the CERN particle accelerator appeared to show particles traveling 60 nanoseconds faster than the speed of light. The team behind the results (OPERA) submitted their findings to the scientific community for verification. They responded with understandable skepticism.
Then, a second experiment at the same facility replicated the results of the first. But the new possible errors announced this week would explain both results. As was speculated earlier, the errors have to do with CERN's unestablished use of GPS to synchronize clocks at either end of the beam. Nature explains:
First, the passage of time on the clocks between the arrival of the synchronizing signal has to be interpolated and OPERA now says this may not have been done correctly. Second, there was a possible faulty connection between the GPS signal and the OPERA master clock.
While the first error may have affected the results, the second could account specifically for the unbelievable results. In fact, after the faulty wiring was fixed, scientists found that data traveling the length of the fiber arrived exactly 60 nanoseconds earlier than before, says Science Insider, who broke the story. According to OPERA, the two possible errors would have opposite effects on the results, so they're reserving judgment until they repeat the experiment again.
Meanwhile, as the BBC notes, experiments are underway at the Fermilab in the United States, in Japan's T2K facility, and at CERN led by other teams to try and replicate the results. The findings of those experiments should be announced in the next few months.