Sunday, October 16, 2011

Big News: Einstein Is Still Right

A couple weeks ago I posted that the OPERA collaboration had measured neutrinos moving faster than the speed of light in violation of Einstein's theory of special relativity.  The experiment was very simple - neutrinos produced at CERN on the broader between Switzerland and France were shot towards a detector in Italy.  The time between the pulses' creation and detection was measured using atomic clocks and the distance traveled was measured using GPS satellites.  The result was that on average the neutrinos arrived 60 nanoseconds faster than if they moved at the speed of light.

It turns out that the problem wasn't too much Einstein but rather not enough.  A Dutch physicist named Ronald van Elburg found that the OPERA team made a small mistake in the way they applied special relativistic corrections due to the velocity of the GPS satellites.  This correction to the OPERA team's calculation should decrease the travel time of the neutrinos by 64 nanoseconds.  You can read the pre-print here.

In response, Einstein says:


  1. thanks for the follow up...

  2. Phew! My universe has been restored.

  3. I've read a few critiques of this rejoinder that suggest this wasn't actually a problem.  Not that anyone thinks Einstein was wrong but rather there's a different mistake somewhere.

  4. I've read a couple of these as well and there appears to be a disagreement between the OPERA team and Dr. van Elburg.  Of course the OPERA team took special relativity into account in their original work, so they've thought very hard about things like this and have convinced themselves (and some other very smart people) that Dr. van Elburg has made a mistake.  I imagine there will be a lot more intense discussion before this is settled and I'll try to post again when some consensus develops.

  5. One such account of the debate can be found here


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