Science: Speedy neutrino result may be due to instrument glitch

Maybe it was unbelievable for a reason. The signs that neutrinos may travel faster than light, contradicting the well-tested rules of Einstein’s special theory of relativity, look like they may have been due to a bad GPS connection.

The speedsters took 2.4 milliseconds to fly from a particle accelerator at CERN near Geneva in Switzerland to an underground detector at Gran Sasso, Italy, a distance of 730 kilometres. Shockingly, they appeared to arrive 60 nanoseconds earlier than they would have if they’d been travelling at light speed.

But that flight time was computed based on a number of different measurements, including the use of a GPS satellite to ensure that the clocks in Geneva agreed with the clocks in Gran Sasso. ScienceInsider’s Edwin Cartlidge reported yesterday that a loose cable connecting a GPS receiver to an electronic card in a computer might be able to account for the entire 60-nanosecond anomaly.

Read more: “Neutrinos: Complete guide to the ghostly particle”

However CERN spokesman James Gillies told me, “It’s not quite as simple as that….There’s a possible explanation, but we will not know for sure until further tests have been made with beam.”

He said something similar to MSNBC’s Alan Boyle, adding that those tests have been scheduled for May.

OPERA team member Luca Stanco of the National Institute of Nuclear Physics in Padua, Italy, told me that an official update will be released tomorrow. Stay tuned.

Lisa Grossman, New Scientist

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