Cern on the latest neutrino brouhaha: tests in May will tell

Albert Einstein in 1921, the year he won the Nobel Prize for physics

GENEVA, SWITZERLAND – The uproar in the physics world was almost as loud Wednesday 22 February as in September 2011: the American Association for the Advancement of Science said Wednesday that a loose wire was suspected as being responsible for what may have been incorrect readings of neutrinos announced in September in 2011 by Cern’s Opera project.

Scientists at Gran Sasso labs in Italy said in November that their colleagues working with Cern had been mistaken, adding to the confusion. The September announcement had called into question a basic tenet of physics, Albert Einstein’s theory of relativity.

Thursday morning Cern issued an unusually short statement to clarify the situation:

“The Opera collaboration has informed its funding agencies and host laboratories that it 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. 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 potential extent of these two effects is being studied by the Opera collaboration. New measurements with short pulsed beams are scheduled for May.”

The neutrinos in question travelled from Cern to Italy’s Gran Sasso research centre and Bob Evans reports for Reuters that “physicists at the Cern research institute near Geneva appeared to contradict Albert Einstein’s 1905 Special Theory of Relativity last year when they reported that sub-atomic particles called neutrinos could travel fractions of a second faster than light.”