Faster-Than-Light Results Debunked by Computer Glitch? Hold On, Not So Fast!

The neutrino story is still not an open and shut case. You’ve probably read about the supposed computer glitch by now. If you haven’t, we have it right here. However, as more details pour in, more surprises tumble out! It turns out that there wasn’t just one computer error, there were, in fact, two!! And this complicates matters

Twin Glitches

Error #1

New York Times reports that one source of error is the GPS measurement system, or more precisely, the optical cable connecting the GPS receiver to the detector. This is a five mile long cable and the faulty wiring could’ve easily put the measurements back by 60 nanoseconds, which was the exact amount of time by which the neutrinos beat the speed of light. This is the story we reported earlier.

Error #2

However, it seems that there was yet another unaccounted systematic error! There is a piece of equipment that marks the exact time for the GPS measurements, taking into account all sorts of relativistic corrections.

However, this would speed up the neutrinos even more, making the case for the violation of relativity even stronger.

The first error has been corrected, but the second error is yet to be taken care of.

Add and subtract the errors? No? What’s wrong?

As any student of physics would know, errors like these cannot simply be added or subtracted. For extreme precision experiments, like the OPERA  experiment, one cannot tweak the experimental data in order to do take into account all technical glitches. The only way to resolve this would be to fix the systematics and run the experiment again!

The experiment would definitely need an independent test to be refuted, now more than ever, since these unexpected question marks have been put up against it.

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Debjyoti Bardhan

Is a science geek, currently pursuing some sort of a degree (called a PhD) in Physics at TIFR, Mumbai. An enthusiastic but useless amateur photographer, his most favourite activity is simply lazing around. He is interested in all things interesting and scientific.