Rumour: neutrino speed limit = c

The OPERA neutrino detector. Credit: OPERA, Laboratori Nazionali del Gran Sasso

Update: OPERA has confirmed that they identified two potential instrumental culprits causing the anomalous neutrino time-of-flight measurement. Further testing is required  to make sure these really are the culprits. Testing will take place later this year.

You might have heard this already, but since I talked about this topic 3 times in the past (here, here and here), I thought I should mention it. There are rumours circulating that OPERA might have found delays in their electronics that were unaccounted for which resulted in the 60 nanoseconds discrepancy that sent the world thinking neutrinos could go faster than the speed of light.

Here is Phil Plait giving more details and also Sean Carroll offering some thoughts. Let me emphasize this again: it is just a rumour at this point. OPERA still needs to confirm. I can understand if they are reluctant to do so. This is certainly embarrassing, but I hope the world will take it as a case in point that scientists admit the mistakes they make, instead of focusing on the fact that they make mistakes (and wrongly conclude that they are not trustworthy).

I think my tone has betrayed that I think the rumour is very likely to be true. But don’t take my word for it, and don’t think that physics and the world you live in is any less interesting, amazing and hopeful because of it. Transforming ourselves into neutrinos to visit other star systems was never going to be the answer anyway.

When OPERA found the 60 nanoseconds discrepancy in their results and couldn’t find a systematic effect responsible for it, they went public to get help. Now that they might have found the mistake, they will have to go public again. I think it was and is the right to do to go public in both cases. It shows that scientists organized in large enough collaborations are truly accountable. Would you ask any less of politicians? Would you want to know if the Prime Minister and his cabinet faced a problem they cannot understand?

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