© 2024 WRTI
Your Classical and Jazz Source
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Is Einstein Right? Error Could Account For Faster-Than-Light Neutrinos

A 2010 light installation entitled 'Speed of Light' in London.
Ben Stansall
AFP/Getty Images
A 2010 light installation entitled 'Speed of Light' in London.

Remember last year, when we reported that Italian scientists claimed to have broken the speed of light? Remember the mystical implications of that? The possibility that Einstein was wrong? That our very basic idea of physics was challenged? The idea that you could be shot before a bullet left a gun?

Then you also remember that our friend and astrophysicist Adam Frank warned that these results should be looked at with great suspicion.

It turns out the results from the experiment called OPERA (Oscillation Project with Emulsion-tRacking Apparatus) could have been affected by a problem with the GPS system used to time the neutrinos.

A spokesman for the European Organization for Nuclear Research confirmed the error to The Associated Press today. The AP reports that James Gillies says only other experiments planned for later this year will confirm whether the problem affected the results.

Science Magazine reported the issue earlier today. The reported:

"According to sources familiar with the experiment, 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. 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."

So the bottom line is more experiments are needed to discard the findings for sure.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Eyder Peralta
Eyder Peralta is NPR's East Africa correspondent based in Nairobi, Kenya.