CERN: Faster-Than-Light Neutrinos Or Loose Cables?

Brad Chacos

This just in from the "It can happen to anyone" department: scientists think they may have found an explanation for the neutrinos found travelling faster than the speed of light at CERN last year -- and it doesn't involve honest-to-goodness faster than light travel. As it turns out, the big brains at CERN would probably make lousy IT guys, because they forgot to perform a basic step of any technical troubleshooting process: checking the wires.

Just in case you don't remember, the CERN scientists unveiled their controversial finding -- in which neutrinos sent from Geneva arrived in Italy 60 nanoseconds faster than the speed of light -- back in September of last year. Testing in November returned the same results. But those plucky scientists didn't stop there; no, they kept poking and prodding at the setup to try to prove or disprove the results. Apparently, it took until now for them to get around to testing the physical connections.

"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," Science Insider reported yesterday . After tightening the connection, whaddaya know -- the 60 second discrepancy disappeared.

Of course, it will take more testing to prove that it was a loose wire that tricked the best minds in the world into thinking particles were breaking the laws of physics. In fact, ZDNet's reporting that CERN has found another potential equipment issue that could've been giving false readings, too -- but the second malfunction would give a slower than accurate reading, which means that the "faster than the speed of light" neutrinos could have going even faster than originally thought.  Both hypotheses will be tested over the coming days.

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