[Article] Faster-than-light neutrino result to get extra checks

26 10 2011

(From New Scientist)

The OPERA detector (OPERA Collaboration)

The OPERA detector (OPERA Collaboration)

Neutrinos may move faster than light, but double-checking the results is decidedly slower, as the team prepares to submit a paper for publication.

Last month the OPERA collaboration at Gran Sasso, Italy, announced that neutrinos had arrived from CERN, 730 kilometres away in Switzerland, 60 nanoseconds faster than light speed. The controversial claim triggered a flood of criticism, support and speculation from the rest of the physics world.

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This is great news. There are many people out there (myself included) who are skeptical of the existing result. Unfortunately, since this wasn’t the main analysis at OPERA the experimental paradigm was not optimised for this measurement and there are a few tweaks we’d like to see to really get a precise measurement of the time of flight of the neutrinos. CERN is taking the most obvious step and they’re going to send tighter bunches, improving the precision. The new proton spills are expected to give about a dozen events which should be independent of the previous dataset, and should either confirm or refute the previous result.

What happens if the new result also shows superluminal neutrinos? Then if there is a bias it really is a subtle one and one source of bias has been eliminated. This should answer some of OPERA’s own critics. If the result shows neutrinos that respect special relativity then the situation gets a bit more interesting! The skeptics will become louder, but we’d still need more data. 15 events can’t overturn the result obtained with 15,000 events, no matter how tempting it is to dismiss the existing result. No matter what we see with these new events, we still need a completely independent check from a different experiment, perhaps MINOS or T2K.




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