Faster than light? Jim’s shorts are safe

When physicists announced they’d detected sub-atomic particles, neutrinos, that were travelling at speeds beyond the speed of light in a vacuum, there was a media feeding frenzy. Most scientists assumed it was a glitch and Jim Al-Khalili said he’d eat his shorts on live TV if faster than light neutrinos were found to exist.

Indeed, it was only a clutch of non-Einsteinian pseudoscientists with their cracked conjectures who even vaguely thought such particles might achieve such great speeds. After all, there is no way to explain how a particle with mass might be accelerated to a speed that exceeds that of “mass-free” electromagnetic radiation, this is regardless of any discrepancies in Relativity or the fact that it is yet to be unified or corroborated with the quantum world. More to the point, the very GPS satellites on which many scientific studies rely have to be corrected for Relativistic effects, which kind of suggests that it’s a pretty accurate interpretation of physical reality!

Anyway, just released a CERN Communiqué de Presse which says:

“The OPERA collaboration has…identified two possible effects that could have an influence on its neutrino timing measurement. These both require further tests with a short pulsed beam. If confirmed, one would increase the size of the measured effect, the other would diminish it.”

I suspect that the OPERA team will not be offering to pass the condiments to Jim any time in the near future.

“The first possible effect concerns an oscillator used to provide the time stamps for GPS synchronizations. It could have led to an overestimate of the neutrino’s time of flight. The second concerns the optical fibre connector that brings the external GPS signal to the OPERA master clock, which may not have been functioning correctly when the measurements were taken. If this is the case, it could have led to an underestimate of the time of flight of the neutrinos.”

The new measurements with short pulsed beams are scheduled for May, CERN says.

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