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Bad Cable May Be to Blame in Flawed Faster-Than-Light Experiment


A malfunctioning cable may have been responsible for the claim that some particles may be able to travel faster than light speed, a potentially embarrassing outcome for physicists who had publicized the findings with great fanfare just a few month ago.

In September, scientists at the European Organization for Nuclear Research, or CERN, said that ghostlike particles called neutrinos zapped from a lab in Geneva to one in Italy had seemingly made the trip in about 60 nanoseconds less than light speed—a finding that garnered headlines around the world. It also induced much head-shaking among skeptical scientists who said they were convinced that the result was an error.

It turns out the only ghost may have been in the machine after all. CERN says it had identified two possible effects that could have affected the experiment: one relates to an oscillator used to provide time stamps for estimating particle speeds, and a possible glitch in a fiber-optic cable.

"If this is the case, it could have led to an underestimate of the time of flight of the neutrinos," CERN said in a one-paragraph "update" posted on its website. It plans new measurements in May.

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