Einstein Right After All? — New Study Fails to Confirm that Particles Were Observed Travelling Faster than the Speed of Light

Impressive as CERN is, seen here from an aerial view, there are still plenty of bugs to be worked out.

Scientists were very excited to reveal that neutrinos had been observed travelling faster than the speed of light at the CERN laboratory.  This was touted as a breakthrough in modern physics that could reveal that Einstein’s famous law that nothing in the universe can travel faster than the speed of light was incorrect.  This was very exciting to the scientific community because of the ramifications of the discovery.  It made things that were excluded from the realm of possibility, like travelling to distant stars or through time, suddenly seem at least plausible.  However, they may have spoken too soon.

Scientists working for the Oscillation Project with Emulsion-Tracking Apparatus, abbreviated to OPERA, have been feverishly working to verify the findings because of a small flaw in the design of the experiment.  It was theorized that the clocking of the neutrinos during their 450-mile underground journey might have been off a very small amount.  Like supersmall.  We’re talking less than nanoseconds.  With something like neutrinos, though, this is enough to bring the whole study into question.  After all, the particles that were observed exceeding the speed of light only broke the barrier by 58 billionths of a second.  Not exactly an open-and-shut case.

To get a better measurement, scientists tried to decrease the room for error.  The first study featured neutrinos created in 10,000 billionths of a second bursts.  This time, they were able to improve that to just 3 billionths of a second, allowing for a much more precise measurement.  Unfortunately, this time around, the neutrinos did not exceed the speed of light, leading scientists to believe that perhaps the original clocking was off just enough to get everyone excited for nothing.

The difference in results has many calling the whole clocking process into question.  It is a highly experimental method.  After all, almost everything being done at CERN in Geneva, Switzerland is breaking new ground.  The current process uses GPS (a little higher caliber than the one in our car or phone) to monitor the neutrinos as they move along.  As the technology is perfected, perhaps better studies will be performed that can give more concrete answers.  In the meantime, Albert Einstein can cease rolling over in his grave.  The speed of light barrier is safe…for now.