CERN admits anomaly in neutrino speed of light claims

8 Jun 2012

Theoretical physicist and mathematician Albert Einstein

CERN captured people’s attention last September when it suggested that neutrino beams sent from its Geneva lab 730km away to Italy’s INFN Gran Sasso Laboratory could have travelled faster than the speed of light. Today, however, CERN admitted there was an anomaly in its experiments, so Albert Einstein’s cosmic speed limit as part of his 1905 theory of relativity remains consistent.

Last September, CERN sent shockwaves amongst the physics community when it claimed that based on OPERA neutrino experiments measured at San Grasso in Italy, neutrino particles appeared to travel at a velocity 20 parts per million above the speed of light, nature’s cosmic speed limit, as posited by Einstein.

Speaking at a neutrino physics and astrophysics conference in Kyoto today, CERN’s research director Sergio Bertolucci conceded that the OPERA experiment had anomalies, based on a faulty fibre-optic timing system.

Bertolucci presented results on the time of flight of neutrinos from CERN to the INFN Gran Sasso Laboratory on behalf of four experiments situated at Gran Sasso.

He indicated that the four experiments, Borexino, ICARUS, LVD and OPERA, all measure a neutrino time of flight consistent with the speed of light.

Bertolucci attributed the error to a faulty element of the experiment’s fibre-optic timing system.

“Although this result isn’t as exciting as some would have liked, it is what we all expected deep down,” said Bertolucci in a CERN statement.

“The story captured the public imagination, and has given people the opportunity to see the scientific method in action – an unexpected result was put up for scrutiny, thoroughly investigated and resolved in part thanks to collaboration between normally competing experiments. That’s how science moves forward,” he added.

Carmel Doyle was a long-time reporter with Silicon Republic