It’s official: The OPERA experiment did not break Special Relativity, and neutrino’s do not travel faster than light. In one of the most attention-grabbing experiments of recent times, a beam of neutrinos generated at the Large Hadron Collider facility in Geneva was beamed downwards, through the Earth’s crust, towards the OPERA neutrino detector buried in a mountain at San Grasso, Italy. The neutrino’s were timed very precisely and the shocking result was that they took about 50 nanoseconds less time to travel the distance than a photon would have: the neutrinos appeared be travelling faster than light. This was such a huge result that the experiment team automatically assumed that they had made a mistake and after a fruitless search for possible errors, announced their results with a call for other scientists to help them figure out what had gone wrong.
Five months later, in February this year, a second announcement was made that they believed they had found two faulty pieces of equipment which might have had an effect on their readings. These items were a bad fibre-optic connector, and a miscalibrated crystal in a timing circuit. Either of these faults could have thrown out the time measurements, and a new experiment was scheduled for June that same year to measure the effects (if any) of these problems.
Well now that experiment has been completed and the results are out: Both components had a measurable effect on neutrino timing. The cable was causing time measurements to be underestimated by some 72 nanoseconds, while the clock circuit was overstimating by about 15 nanoseconds. These numbers together give us a miscalibration that fits within the error of the original results. The conclusion: The speed of light stands as an inviolable constant of the universe, and two tiny faults in one of the biggest science experiments ever were confirmed (with nanosecond precision – a nanosecond is a billionth of a second) to completely account for the original results.
And that, ladies and gentleman, is how proper scientists work. A routine experiment returned an astonishing result which contradicted everything we thought we knew. The scientists involved must have dreaded the possibility of being shown to be in error, even as they secretly dreamed of going down in history books as the team that proved Einstein wrong. But all of them kept on with the methodical task of identifying possible errors, of publishing their data for other scientists to examine, and to remain open to all possible explanations. And by examining all possibilities with a critical eye, they finally uncovered the truth of the matter: It was their equipment that was broken, not Einstein’s theory.