‘Faster-than-Light’ Project Leaders Quit

Posted April 3rd, 2012 at 1:10 pm (UTC-4)
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The Opera Detector (Photo: Opera web site)

The Opera Detector (Photo: Opera web site)

Two leaders of the OPERA project – which claimed to show subatomic particles traveling faster than the speed of light – have quit, according to Nature.

If proven correct, the OPERA research would disprove Einstein’s special theory of relativity.

However, last month a rival experimental group, called ICARUS, cast doubt on the findings after repeating the experiment and finding the subatomic particles, called neutrinos, traveled at the same speed of light.

It was last September that scientists working on the OPERA project at CERN announced they’d found neutrinos traveled faster than the speed of light. which.

Albert Einstein’s special theory of relativity holds that nothing travels faster than the speed of light.

The scientists, based at CERN near Geneva, fired a beam of neutrinos – elementary particles which don’t hold an electrical charge and pass through ordinary matter with virtually no interaction – from a particle accelerator to a lab in Italy, about 730 kilometers away.

The Geneva-based scientists said the neutrinos they’d sent to the lab in Italy got there 60 nanoseconds faster than the speed of light – or 300,006 kilometers per second.

The finding was met with huge dose of skepticism in the scientific community.

Over the months since the announced findings, the disbelief and doubt continued to grow with scientists demanding that the experiment be repeated.

This past February, the OPERA scientists who made the initial claim said they’d found two technical glitches which could have had an effect on their discovery.  The oscillator used to provide the time stamps for GPS synchronizations in the experiment might have been faulty –  leading to an overestimate of the neutrinos’ time of flight.

The other glitch was found with the optical fiber connector that brings the external GPS signal to the OPERA master clock. If the master clock wasn’t functioning properly when the measurements were taken, it could have led to an underestimate of the time of flight of the neutrinos.

After the OPERA findings were debunked by the rival ICARUS team,  the drama took another turn on Friday.  Italy’s National Institute of Nuclear Physics confirmed  OPERA team members Antonio Ereditato and Dario Auterio had stepped down.

Rick Pantaleo
Rick Pantaleo maintains the Science World blog and writes stories for VOA’s web and radio on a variety of science, technology and health topics. He also occasionally appears on various VOA programs to talk about the latest scientific news. Rick joined VOA in 1992 after a 20 year career in commercial broadcasting.

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