“Faster Than Light” Neutrino Probably Just An Error

Back in September, I noted the news out of Europe that scientists at CERN had discovered what appeared to be evidence of neutrinos that moved faster than light, a discovery that if confirmed would upset much of what we think we know about the universe. In November, there appeared to be some confirmation of these results but it was still unclear if what was reported in September was reality or just some kind of mistake. Today, Alex Knapp passes on a post which appears to admit that the “faster than light” particles were most likely an error:

The OPERA collaboration, which made headlines in September with the revolutionary claim to have clocked neutrinos traveling faster than the speed of light, has identified two possible sources of error in its experiment. If true its result would have violated Einstein’s Special Theory of Relativity, a cornerstone of modern physics.

OPERA had collected data suggesting that neutrinos generated at CERN near Geneva and sent 730 kilometers to its detector Gran Sasso National Laboratory were arriving 60 nanoseconds faster than a light beam would take to travel the same distance. Many physicists were skeptical but the measurement appeared to be carefully done and reached a statistically significant level.

But according to a statement OPERA began circulating today, two possible problems have now been found with its set-up. As many physicists had speculated might be the case, both are related to the experiment’s pioneering use of Global Positioning System (GPS) signals to synchronize atomic clocks at each end of its neutrino beam. First, the passage of time on the clocks between the arrival of the synchronizing signal has to be interpolated and OPERA now says this may not have been done correctly. Second, there was a possible faulty connection between the GPS signal and the OPERA master clock.

An anonymously sourced account on Science Insider today broke the news that OPERA may have made a mistake . That report says the faulty connection can account exactly for the 60 nanosecond effect. OPERA’s official statement stops short of that, saying instead that its two possible sources of error point in opposite directions and it is still working things out. Its statement reads in full:

“The OPERA Collaboration, by continuing its campaign of verifications on the neutrino velocity measurement, has identified two issues that could significantly affect the reported result. The first one is linked to the oscillator used to produce the events time-stamps in between the GPS synchronizations. The second point is related to the connection of the optical fiber bringing the external GPS signal to the OPERA master clock.

These two issues can modify the neutrino time of flight in opposite directions. While continuing our investigations, in order to unambiguously quantify the effect on the observed result, the Collaboration is looking forward to performing a new measurement of the neutrino velocity as soon as a new bunched beam will be available in 2012. An extensive report on the above mentioned verifications and results will be shortly made available to the scientific committees and agencies.”

There will doubtless be more experimentation to either verify these results, or the error itself. Right now, though, it appears that Einstein’s theories still stand and faster-than-light travel still isn’t possible.

FILED UNDER: Quick Takes, Science & Technology
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed for too young in July 2021.


  1. michael reynolds says:

    Oh really? Well, it just so happens I heard this story several milliseconds before anyone else.

  2. Hey Norm says:


  3. Lou Bricious says:

    This just reinforces what I’ve always said about a young earth, the errors of evolution, the global-warming conspiracy, and the prejudices of the main-stream media against real Americans.

  4. anjin-san says:

    I think it was actually all the women fleeing the GOP. They simply gave the appearance of something moving faster than light…

  5. Tillman says:

    @Lou Bricious: Wow, you got all that from a sixty nanosecond miscalculation on an atomic clock?

  6. John H says:

    So, we have an example of serious scientists doing what they do. Everyone involved was careful to repeatedly point out that the results where at odds with the huge body of data supporting relativity, and that while everyone was hopeful that some new thing had been discovered, (because that’s what we live for), the most likely outcome was that some error had been made. They then started checking and checking, and getting other people to check (Fermilab and KEK in Japan are in the process of trying to replicate). After all this difficult and intricate work, they find an indication that an error may have been found… and the punch line is that people like @Lou Bricious think this is a weakness in the scientific method and way of understanding how things work. More data to support the contention that nothing is denser than a true believers mind.

  7. @John H: I think Lou is joking.

  8. Kit says:

    @Robert Prather: Joking?

    Yeah, you just keep telling yourself that, John, if it helps you to sleep well at night. I happen to have it on good authority that this whole episode was caused when these ‘scientists’ were burning Obama’s original birth certificate in a waste basket and this led to a short circuit in one of their new-world-order mind-control machines. There are your tax dollars at work.