Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Einstein 1, GPS 0

by Salman Hameed

It seems that neutrinos got a bad rep. They after all behaved well within the rules - and did not travel faster the speed of light. Phew! On the one hand we don't need new textbooks just yet. On the other hand, this was exciting - and it would have been cool to have some major shuffle in physics. We still have to figure out laws that work consistently at both large and small scales. But Einstein's speed limit stands for now!

Here is the story from Science. It seems that there was a communication error between the GPS unit and the computer. Khaaaaaaaahn! Oh I mean - GPPPPPPS! What? Too soon for a Star Trek joke?

It appears that the faster-than-light neutrino results, announced last September by the OPERA collaboration in Italy, was due to a mistake after all. A bad connection between a GPS unit and a computer may be to blame.
Physicists had detected neutrinos travelling from the CERN laboratory in Geneva to the Gran Sasso laboratory near L'Aquila that appeared to make the trip in about 60 nanoseconds less than light speed. Many other physicists suspected that the result was due to some kind of error, given that it seems at odds with Einstein's special theory of relativity, which says nothing can travel faster than the speed of light. That theory has been vindicated by many experiments over the decades.

According to sources familiar with the experiment, the 60 nanoseconds discrepancy appears to come from a bad connection between a fiber optic cable that connects to the GPS receiver used to correct the timing of the neutrinos' flight and an electronic card in a computer. After tightening the connection and then measuring the time it takes data to travel the length of the fiber, researchers found that the data arrive 60 nanoseconds earlier than assumed. Since this time is subtracted from the overall time of flight, it appears to explain the early arrival of the neutrinos. New data, however, will be needed to confirm this hypothesis.


Anonymous said...

dats wat i tolja!

Gary said...

Well even the creationists doubted it. Maybe because it still didn't support their claim for a much greater speed of light in the distant past.

Anonymous said...

I still have a feeling that there is no such thing as the 'speed' of is merely a function of 'time'. It can vaguely be defined as the 'speed of reality' in simpler terms. That is why I have strong belief in 'c' as a limiting speed for everything, even the (almost) mass-less photons or neutrinos. However it wouldn't hold for a 'negative mass' (if it can ever be comprehended or theorized). This is the best my ape-size brain can gather from this 'speed of light' stuff.

Sean Keough said...

That must be some kinda high tech GPS device they nice to have that in the car and boat...I also understand that the big solar event that has the northern lights cranking, and has caused issues with commercial GPS used for navigation...not sure if there's truth to that, but can anyone say Exxon Valdez? Yikes.

Salman Hameed said...

Sean - But we don't cars or boats traveling faster than light either :)

It seems that things were not connected they may not be able to blame the solar storm. But this is a good demonstration of science in progress...

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