WASHINGTON — A European experiment that in September showed particles moving faster than the speed of light has been exposed as a mistake due to a faulty wire connection, the US journal Science said Wednesday.
“A bad connection between a GPS unit and a computer may be to blame,” said the report on the magazine’s website section Science Insider, citing “sources familiar with the experiment.”
The initial findings sparked intrigue and skepticism in the scientific community because the discovery, if confirmed, would have been at odds with Einstein’s theory of relativity, which has held sway for more than a century.
The neutrinos arrived 60 nanoseconds earlier that the 2.3 milliseconds taken by light, in experiments conducted between the European Centre for Nuclear Research (CERN) in Switzerland and a laboratory in Italy.
Scientists blasted a beam producing billions upon billions of neutrinos from CERN, which straddles the French-Swiss border near Geneva, to the Gran Sasso Laboratory 730 kilometres (453 miles) away in Italy.
Neutrinos are electrically neutral particles so small that only recently were they found to have mass.
The report in Science Insider said the “60 nanoseconds discrepancy appears to come from a bad connection between a fiber optic cable that connects to the GPS receiver used to correct the timing of the neutrinos’ flight and an electronic card in a computer.
“After tightening the connection and then measuring the time it takes data to travel the length of the fiber, researchers found that the data arrive 60 nanoseconds earlier than assumed,” it added.
“Since this time is subtracted from the overall time of flight, it appears to explain the early arrival of the neutrinos. New data, however, will be needed to confirm this hypothesis.”