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CERN finds errors in 'faster-than-light' neutrinos experiment

CERN has found two possible mistakes made during its groundbreaking experiment, in which neutrinos traveled faster than light.

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A view of the CERN in Geneva, Switzerland, where scientists are revisiting their groundbreaking experiment in which neutrinos were sent to Gran Sasso Laboratory at a rate faster than the speed of light. (Vittorio Zunino Celotto/AFP/Getty Images)

Scientists at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) who claimed they had discovered neutrinos that could travel faster than the speed of light, have found two possible sources of error in their revolutionary experiment, Slate reported

The Oscillation Project with Emulsion-Racking Apparatus (OPERA), a collaboration between the CERN and Gran Sasso National Laboratory, sent neutrinos from the CERN headquarters in Geneva 730 kilometers (454 miles) to a detector at Gran Sasso National Laboratory 60 nanoseconds faster than a light beam would take to travel the same distance, Talking Points Memo reported.

When the results were released, many physicists were skeptical, but the measurement appeared to be carefully done, according to TPM. 

More from GlobalPost: Scientists say they found particles traveling faster than speed of light

If the experiment is found to be accurate, its results will have violated Einstein’s Special Theory of Relativity, a cornerstone of modern physics, Nature Magazine reported

As many physicists had speculated, the issues are both are related to the use of GPS signals to synchronize the atomic clocks at each end of the neutrino beam, as Nature explained. The passage of time on the clocks should have been interpolated, which may not have been done correctly. There is also a possibility that the connection between the GPS signal and the OPERA master clock was faulty, according to Nature. 

"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," CERN said in a press release. "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."

“For the moment the collaboration decided not to make a quantitative statement, because we have to recheck and discuss the findings more thoroughly,” Caren Hagner, a member of OPERA at the University of Hamburg in Germany, told Nature. 

In the meantime, the CERN has scheduled new experiments with short pulsed beams for May 2012. Other scientific teams, such as Borexino at Gran Sasso; Minos, based at Fermilab in the US; and T2K in Japan are all performing similar experiments in an attempt to replicate the original results, which are expected to be released in the coming months, BBC News reported

"All this story has shown to the wider public is how science works," Sergio Bertolucci, director of research at CERN, told BBC. "Of course the people of OPERA are not happy; they would have preferred that the neutrinos stayed [faster than light], but the fact that they came out and they put themselves to the scrutiny of the wider collaboration...I think makes a good case for science."

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/business-tech/120223/cern-errors-faster-than-light-experiment