‘Faster Than Light’ Neutrino Was Product of Loose Cable at CERN
The universe as we know it was saved today. The instrument of its salvation, and that of the very edifice of physics itself? A fiber-optic cable in a GPS receiver at the European Center for Particle Physics (CERN) near Geneva.
The universe was first endangered back in September, when a group of CERN physicists fired a swarm of neutrinos — ghostly particles that don’t give a fig about objects in their path—through a mountain to a receiver beneath Italy’s Apennine Mountains, located 450 miles (724 km) away. Since the mountain might as well not have been there, the neutrinos should have moved at the speed of light the entire way — no slower, and definitely no faster, since, as Albert Einstein pointed out, nothing in the universe can do that.
(MORE: Was Einstein Wrong? A Faster-Than-Light Neutrino May Be Saying Yes)
But according to the Apennine receivers, the neutrinos did go faster — not by much, just by 60 nanoseconds, or .0025% of the time it would have taken a light beam to make the trip. But being a little faster than light is like being a little dead; even a tiny bit changes everything. In this case, what the experiment would have changed is the very foundation of Einstein’s special theory of relativity, which is itself the foundation of more than a century of physics, and fundamental to our entire understanding of the universe. So people were concerned.