Intelligent Energy

Whoa neutrinos, whoa! CERN says particles not so fast after all

Posting in Energy

Last year, one CERN team said neutrinos appeared to outrace light. That's an Einstein no-no. A separate team at the Geneva physics lab has found otherwise. This race ain't over.

Faster-than-light neutrinos would disobey Einstein.

This just in: Geneva physics lab CERN is now reporting that neutrinos did not outrace light.

CERN's ICARUS team, separate from its OPERA team that has twice recently reported that the subatomic particles appeared to travel faster than the speed of light, has conducted its own experiment with different results.

Both teams clocked neutrinos as they burrowed under the Alps from CERN outside Geneva to the Gran Sasso laboratory 455 miles away in Italy.

"The ICARUS measurement...indicates that the neutrinos do not exceed the speed of light on their journey between the two laboratories," CERN said in a press release today. "This is at odds with the initial measurement reported by OPERA last September." That measurement, and a subsequent one in November, gave neutrinos a 60 nanosecond edge.

"The ICARUS experiment has provided an important cross check of the anamalous result reports from OPERA last year," said Carlo Rubbia, a Nobel prize winning CERN physicist and ICARUS spokesman.

With today's reversal, Albert Einstein's ghost might rest a little easier tonight. The findings by the OPERA group had upset his special theory of relativity that says nothing travels faster than light does in a vacuum. Overturning that law would would shake up many of the precepts of modern physics.

But don't consider the latest result to be the last. After 3 rounds In the CERN sprints, neutrinos still lead light 2 races to 1. The OPERA team has acknowledged all along that its measurements might be off. But its possible errors could favor neutrinos or light, so neutrinos' speed could even exceed the original faster than light findings.

OPERA is planning to put the stopwatch to neutrinos again in May. Place your bets now.

Photo from Dru Bloomfield via Flickr.

More from the CERN sprints, on SmartPlanet:

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