Faster Than Light, Or Just A Faulty Cable?
Scientists at Cern, the world's biggest physics lab, have admitted an experiment that appeared to show neutrino particles could travel faster than light may have been flawed.
Their findings contradicted the work of legendary physicist Albert Einstein and were greeted with excitement – and scepticism – around the world.
Last September, the researchers said they had recorded neutrinos travelling at 300,006 kilometres per second in a 450-mile underground tunnel between Switzerland and Italy.
That was slightly faster than light which travels at 299,792 kilometres per second.
A spokesman for the team said at the time: “We have high confidence in our results.
“We have checked and rechecked for anything that could have distorted our measurements but we found nothing.”
TV presenter Professor Brian Cox, a particle physicist, said if the results were proven it would be the most profound discovery in physics for a century.
Scientists on the Oscillation Project with Emulsion Tracking Apparatus, or Opera, had conducted more than 15,000 measurements over three years before announcing the results.
In November, they said they had been confirmed by a new set of experiments and ruled out one source of systemic error.
But now they say they may have got it wrong, blaming a faulty connection between a GPS unit and a computer.
A rival team at the Cern lab, working on a project dubbed Icarus, said the particles had not lost as much energy as they would had they been travelling at superluminal speed.
Dr John Costella, an Australian physicist, said the Opera researchers had made an “embarrassing gaffe”.
“Any physicist worth even a fraction of their weight in neutrinos will be shaking their head, knowing intuitively that the Opera result is simply wrong,” he wrote in an online paper.
Dr Jim al Khalili, a professor of physics at Surrey University, said: “If the neutrinos have broken the speed of light, it would overturn a keystone theory from the last century of physics.”
He added: “That's possible, but it's far more likely that there is an error in the data. If the Cern experiment proves to be correct and neutrinos have broken the speed of light, I will eat my boxer shorts on live TV.”