The Tech News Blog

March 18, 2012

Scientists Retest Faster-Than-Light Neutrino Claims, Find Otherwise

In what's hopefully the final page to the story that wouldn't die – at least, not until someone takes a cue from Star Trek and invents a warp drive – scientists have gone and performed a retest of last year's experiment that suggested some subatomic particles were travelling faster than the speed of light.

The result? Hold onto your hats: Einstein's special theory of relativity remains in effect. The measured neutrinos do not, in fact, cross the speed limit of 186,282 miles per second.

The crux of the entire controversy centered on results published by an international team of physicists last year. As part of an experiment dubbed OPERA, or Oscillation Project with Emulsion-Tracking Apparatus, researchers found that neutrinos travelling 453 miles between Switzerland and Italy were reaching their destination 60 nanoseconds faster than the Einstein's speed limit should allow.

The scientific community had a minor freak-out at the thought and skeptics quickly hit the press to suggest that OPERA's measurements were somehow flawed. Nobody, after all, has ever seen a subatomic particle breach the speed of light – not in any experiment run since the dawn of time. Seems odd, then, that OPERA would suddenly be able to record a theory-shattering result seemingly out of thin air.

The suggestions of recorder error were later bolstered when OPERA researchers identified two possible sources of measurement error for the experiment.