WHEN BOFFINS working on an experiment at the European Organisation for Nuclear Research (CERN) reported that they had recorded neutrino particles travelling faster than the speed of light, the scientific world was rocked on its axis, but now it is looking as though the scientific breakthrough of faster-than-light travel could be down to something as mundane as bad wiring.
The Oscillation Project with Emulsion-Racking Apparatus (OPERA) uses a high-intensity, high-energy beam of muon neutrinos produced in Geneva and sent towards the underground National Laboratory at Gran Sasso (LNGS), 730km away in central Italy. OPERA is located in Hall C of LNGS and it has attempted to confirm the existence of tau neutrinos from the transmutation of muon neutrinos during their 3 millisecond travel from Geneva to Gran Sasso.
Last September the experiment seemingly revealed that these particles were travelling between Switzerland and Italy at a rate in excess of the speed of light. In fact they arrived 0.00000006 seconds earlier than expected, apparently showing a super-luminal turn of speed.
Boffins have now admitted that there are a couple of potential spanners in the works that could have skewed the results - one affecting the timing system and a dodgy fibre optic connection.
Oddly enough the timing problem, if found to exist, would have the effect of slowing the particles down. But the dodgy wiring apparently would have shown that the particles were travelling faster than they actually were.
A a series of repeatitions of the original experiment will now be conducted to see if the potential problems have distorted the results.
"These latest developments show how hard the OPERA team is working to understand the results," Dave Wark, a particle physicist from the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory in the UK and committee member of Japan's principal neutrino facility T2K, told the BBC.
"Just as it would have been unwise to jump to the conclusion that the initial results were the result of an anomaly, it would be unwise to make any assumptions now. It is the nature of science that theories have to be tested, re-tested and then tested again." µ