Neutrinos are normal after all

So today it emerges that the strange results of the CERN – Gran Sasso neutrino experiment last year – whereby neutrinos appeared to travel faster than the speed of light, something impossible in a relativistic universe – were down to problems with the fibre-optics. It would have been interesting if the results had been true, and the whole thing certainly gave plenty of scientifically-minded people pause for thought, but it says just as much that the results aren’t true, because it is further confirmation of Einstein’s Special Theory of Relativity.

Neutrinos are subatomic particles, which can travel long distances through matter as they are only affected by the weak atomic force and by gravity. The OPERA experiment at CERN attempts to find out more about neutrinos by firing them from a neutrino cannon through the ground to a sister lab in Gran Sasso, Italy.  The aim had been to detect tau neutrinos from muon neutrinos as particles decayed, and nobody had been expecting a faster-than-light speed result. Back in March, they repeated the experiment with the ICARUS detector, which found no such anomaly.

The experiments that go on at CERN have long been a subject of media intrigue, and it’s rare to hear something so highly scientific talked about to such a degree by non-scientific folks. This time round, what with the increasing prevalence of scientists in the media, we had the neutrino experiment even more in the public eye when Prof. Jim Al-Khalili announced he would eat his shorts on live TV if the results turned out to be true. In the end, we won’t be needing to pass him the ketchup, we now have an explanation for the anomaly, and can rest assured that a few more people in the world now know about neutrinos… which is great!


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