Experts believed they had made a major breakthough after an experiment that appeared to show Einstein was wrong and that some particles could travel faster than the speed of light, Mirror reports.
Albert Einstein’s theory of special relativity, proposed in 1905, states that nothing in the universe can travel faster than the speed of light in a vacuum.
But researchers at the CERN lab near Geneva claimed they had recorded neutrinos, a type of tiny particle, travelling faster than the barrier of 186,282 miles (299,792 kilometers) per second.
Physicists on the experiment said when they reported it last September that they had checked and rechecked over many months anything that could have produced a misreading before announcing what they had found.
A second test whose results were announced in November appeared to provide further evidence that neutrinos were travelling faster than light.
Now, according to The Telegraph, it seems Einstein’s reputation has been restored after a source close to the experiment told the US journal Science Insider that “A bad connection between a GPS unit and a computer may be to blame.”
“A possible explanation has been found. But we won’t know until we have tested it out with a new beam to Gran Sasso,” James Gillies, a spokesman for CERN, said in Geneva.
The report in Science Insider said the “60 nanoseconds discrepancy appears to come from a bad connection between a fiber optic cable that connects to the GPS receiver used to correct the timing of the neutrinos’ flight and an electronic card in a computer. ”
“After tightening the connection and then measuring the time it takes data to travel the length of the fiber, researchers found that the data arrive 60 nanoseconds earlier than assumed,” it added.
“Since this time is subtracted from the overall time of flight, it appears to explain the early arrival of the neutrinos. New data, however, will be needed to confirm this hypothesis.”
Many experts remained sceptical of a result that would have overturned one of the fundamental principles of modern physics.
CERN said two possible effects had been identified that could have an influence on its neutrino timing measurement during its OPERA experiment. “New measurements with short pulsed beams are scheduled for May.” it said in a statement.
Scientists across the world agreed if the results were confirmed, that it would force a fundamental rethink of the laws of physics.
John Ellis, a theoretical physicist, said Einstein’s theory underlies “pretty much everything in modern physics.”
Edward Blucher, chairman of the Department of Physics at the University of Chicago, said the original finding would have been breathtaking if it had been true. As it was, the research inspired many spirited discussions, if few believers.
“I don’t think I met anyone who said I bet it’s going to be true. I think the people on the experiment worked as carefully as they could and I think they ran out of ideas of what could be wrong and they decided to present it. Maybe they should have waited a few more months,” he added.