False Alarm: General Relativity Confirmed

Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity is safe. The most probable, but least interesting, explanation for the OPERA results (the “faster than light” neutrinos) now looks likely to be true: there was a fundamental flaw in the experimental methodology. In short, the experimenters forgot to include relativity itself when using GPS satellites to calculate the distance traveled by the neutrinos, and the time it took. Since neutrinos travel at least very close to the speed of light, after they left the CERN accelerator in Switzerland, from the point of view of the GPS the distance to the OPERA site in Italy shrank, so the neutrinos didn’t have as far to travel as the researchers calculated. This accounts for the sixty nanosecond gap between the measured speed of the neutrinos and the speed of light.

The new, mundane, and likely correct explanation was provided by Ronald A. J. van Elburg, a Dutch post-doc working with the sensory cognition group in the Artificial Intelligence department at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands. Dr. van Elburg posted his explanation on Cornell University Library’s Arxiv.org web site. A good reasonably technical article can be found on the Wired Magazine web site. A less technical story that non-scientists with no technical background or inclinations may find easiest to understand is posted on Syfy’s DVice web site.

Darn. I was hoping for a physics breakthrough. But science is about finding out what the facts are, not forcing our wishes on the universe.

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