After the astonishing result from the OPERA collaboration of detecting neutrinos travelling faster than speed of light, Fermilab wants to double-check the claim. This is an inevitable step in the direction of validating the apparent finding. If Fermilab’s MINOS data doesn’t find anything that replicates the OPERA observations with high enough confidence, then the OPERA result, despite its hype, will become null and void.
Here’s the reason why, despite the care and beauty of the OPERA experiment, it needs independent corroboration: every scientific result must be reproducible. Fermilab has an advantage over other neutrino research labs in the world since it already has the data sets from the famous MINOS experiment.
MINOS was Fermilab’s version of the Super Kamiokande experiment,. Neutrinos come in three flavours or types electron, muon and tau. The curious thing is that neutrinos can oscillate’ or change between these types. An electron neutrino can become a muon neutrino. A theoretical mechanism, known as the see-saw mechanism, explains this, using certain unknown parameters, which need to be supplied experimentally. Super Kamiokande performed experiments in 1998 and confirmed the phenomenon of oscillation and measured the mixing angle’ too. Fermilab repeated this experiment and found consistent results. This was the MINOS experiment, MINOS standing for Main Injector Neutrino Oscillation Search.
Well known to scientists in the neutrino field, but virtually unthinkable to the outside world, is that fact that MINOS had actually detected neutrinos moving faster than light. However, these couldn’t survive analysis and presented only a 1.6 to 2 sigma confidence level, below the 3 sigma needed for validation and way below the 5 sigma needed for labeling it as a discovery. MINOS now plans to sift through their data and put it through rigorous analysis. MINOS should take less than 6 months, since the data is already available to them.
It won’t matter if the OPERA experiment isn’t proved wrong. If Fermilab and T2K don’t reproduce the data, OPERA will be up for grabs. Einstein, thou be stillâ€¦ at least for 6 months.