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CERN's faster-than-light neutrinos: It's a Do-Over

CERN's faster-than-light neutrinos: It's a Do-Over

Posting in Energy

The Swiss physics lab says it will send the subatomic particles packing one more time to try to spot mistakes in last month's blazing discovery.

The Swiss physics lab says it will send the subatomic particles packing one more time to try to spot mistakes in last month’s blazing discovery.

CERN scientists are so baffled by the neutrinos that appear to have travelled faster than light that they’re running the experiment again, with a twist.

When the Geneva physics lab first announced its perplexing findings last month, it appealed to scientists around the world to help spot flaws that would disprove the results.

In response, physicists have postulated everything from basic miscalculations to esoteric explanations that the neutrinos burrowed through some undiscovered dimension.

Now, according to the BBC, CERN will try to repeat the results running an experiment that will be slightly different from the original.

Last month’s findings came through serendipity. CERN had sent the neutrinos on an underground journey from Geneva to Italy’s Gran Sasso lab 455 miles (732 km) away near Rome, in order to note how many of them would flip from a muon state to a tau (diagram above).

But the neutrinos shocked the researchers by arriving 60 nanoseconds (60 billionths of a second) faster than the speed of light. If the result stands, it would upset Albert Einstein’s special theory of relativity that states that nothing travels faster than light does in a vacuum. The theory underpins much of modern physics.

CERN researcher Dario Autiero was surprised by the results.

Neutrinos are subatomic particles that can travel through gaps in atoms and through earth, which is how they ploughed under the Alps.

In the original experiment, the neutrinos started out within comparatively long pulses of proton beams before escaping and heading to Gran Sasso. Because the pulse lasts a long time the scientists had to take an average of neutrino departure and arrival times to make their calculations – a process that could be flawed, the BBC notes.

In the new experiment, CERN will fire the proton beams in much shorter pulses, so that they can more accurately pinpoint a neutrino’s departure time.

CERN plans to complete the experiment by the end of November.

Images: CERN

Additional blazing neutrinos:

And some antimatter musings:

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Mark Halper

Contributing Editor

Mark Halper has written for TIME, Fortune, Financial Times, the UK's Independent on Sunday, Forbes, New York Times, Wired, Variety and The Guardian. He is based in Bristol, U.K. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure