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Official Word on Superluminal Neutrinos Leaves Warp-Drive Fans a Shred of Hope—Barely
24 February 2012 11:31 am
The CERN particle physics laboratory in Geneva has confirmed Wednesday's report that a loose fiber-optic cable may be behind measurements that seemed to show neutrinos outpacing the speed of light. But the lab also says another glitch could have caused the experiment to underestimate the particles' speed.
In a statement based on an earlier press release from the OPERA collaboration, CERN said two possible "effects" may have influenced the anomalous measurements. One of them, due to a possible faulty connection between the fiber-optic cable bringing the GPS signals to OPERA and the detector's master clock, would have caused the experiment to underestimate the neutrinos' flight time, as described in the original story. The other effect concerns an oscillator, part of OPERA's particle detector that gives its readings time stamps synchronized to GPS signals. Researchers think correcting for an error in this device would actually increase the anomaly in neutrino velocity, making the particles even speedier than the earlier measurements seemed to show.
CERN's statement says OPERA scientists are studying the "potential extent of these two effects" but doesn't indicate which source of error (if either) is likely to outweigh the other. However, Lucia Votano, director of the Gran Sasso laboratory, says the "main suspicion" focuses on the optical-fiber connection. She adds that OPERA researchers deserve credit for "having tenaciously followed this particular evidence via checks completed in the last few days."
The two effects will get a new round of tests in May, when the two labs are scheduled to make velocity measurements with short-pulsed beams designed to give readings much more precise than scientists have achieved so far.