Faster-than-light neutrinos? Hell naw!

You may remember a bit of neutrino news back in fall of 2011, when a group of researchers from Switzerland and Italy announced they had detected neutrinos going faster than the speed of light.  The OPERA collaboration, an international experiment designed to create and analyze neutrinos, reported in September 2011 that they noticed a few of their neutrinos were traveling a fraction of a percent faster than the universal speed limit.  In this cool scientific experiment, these badasses generate a beam of neutrinos in Switzerland (at CERN), and fire it at Italy, where they’re picked up by detectors at the Gran Sasso National Laboratory.  (Why didn’t the cool fact that they’re shooting a beam of neutrinos across freaking Europe not get more press attention?)  Apparently after firing this thing up, they noticed the neutrinos were getting to Italy about 60 nanoseconds faster than they should.  And by “should”, I mean “as you would expect for an object traveling at the speed of light”.  It’s not much, but it counts – they had (allegedly) detected the very first instance of the speed of light being violated.

The real reason for faster-than-light neutrinos. And for why I can't charge my iPad anymore

Well, it turned out to be too good to be true.  Apparently there were glitches with the experimental setup that made the neutrinos appear to arrive faster than they actually did, including a “fiber optic cable being attached improperly”.  Whoopsie!  I joke, but of course scientific reputations were on the line, and this incident led to the resignation of several leaders of the collaboration.  Which I think is too bad – yes, yes, they could be accused of announcing a controversial, press-attracting result before thoroughly checking its validity.  But it’s not like lives were at stake.  These kind of paradigm-challenging results don’t pop up very often, so I feel like they could be forgiven for throwing out an interesting finding for the rest of the scientific community to inspect.

It got a ton of press at the time, and we had a fun couple of days on twitter riffing on the real reason for superluminal neutrinos .  Here were a few of my favorites, which I shamelessly repeat here to recycle the same material twice  to get you all involved in the fun:

  • Left the e-brake on
  • The neutrinos were TWO-THOUSAND-AND-LATE!!!
  • Someone divided by zero
  • A Neutrino hit “turbo boost”
  • Photons have clearly lost a step in the offseason.  Probably due to the lockout.
  • Neutrinos drove recklessly after being stuck behind a slow-driving baryon for 5 miles (from the hilarious @drskyskull)
  • Cleaning lady bumped into the neutrino detector (from @astrodicticum)

Ah, fun.  Check out twitter if you want to experience the funniest people on earth MST3K’ing the events of the world.

© 2011 TimeBlimp Thith ith a pithy statement. Suffusion theme by Sayontan Sinha