The experiment that was supposed to have proved Albert Einstein wrong by showing that sub-atomic particles can travel faster than the speed of light is more than likely to have been an error, scientists said yesterday.
Fellow scientists at the European nuclear research organisation (Cern) in Geneva announced that they had failed to replicate the findings of the rival Opera experiment last year when neutrinos were detected travelling fractions of a second faster than light speed on their journey to an underground laboratory at Gran Sasso, in Italy. Researchers involved in a similar experiment, named Icarus, said that the time it took for the neutrinos to travel the 750 km (466 miles) from Geneva to Gran Sasso did not suggest that they were capable of travelling faster than light, which would break Einstein's special theory of relativity – a fundamental pillar of theoretical physics.
"The evidence is beginning to point towards the Opera result being an artefact of the measurement," said Sergio Bertolucci, the research director of Cern. The Icarus experiment uses an independent timing mechanism from that used on Opera. It measured seven neutrinos in the beam from Cern last year and these all arrived in a time consistent with them travelling no faster than the speed of light, Dr Bertolucci said.
One suggestion is that the Opera experiment was marred by a loose cable in the delicate equipment used to measure the arrival times of the neutrinos sent from Geneva.