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Aidan Randle-Conde | Université Libre de Bruxelles | Belgium

View Blog | Read Bio

Live blog: neutrinos!

This is a live blog for the CERN EP Seminar “New results from OPERA on neutrino properties“, presented by Dario Autiero. Live webcast is available. The paper is available on the arXiv.

The crowd in the auditorium (Thanks to Kathryn Grim)

The crowd in the auditorium (Thanks to Kathryn Grim)

15:39: So here I am at CERN, impatiently waiting for the Colloquium to start on the OPERA result. The room is already filling up and the chatter is quite loud. I’m here with my flatmate Sudan, and we have a copy of the paper on the desk in front of us. I just bumped into a friend, Brian, and wished him look finding a chair! (He just ran to get me a coffee. Cheers Brian!)

15:53: Wow, the room is really crowded now! People are sitting on the steps, in the aisles, and more are coming in. The title slide is already up on the projector, and some AV equipment is being brought in. I was just chatting to Sudan and Brian, and we commenting that this is probably the biggest presentation that the world’s biggest physics lab has seen in a long time! As Sudan says, “The whole world is going to be watching this man.”

15:55: Burton and Pauline are here too, getting some photos before the talk begins. Expect to see more (less hastily written) blog posts about this talk!

15:59: We’re not allowed to take photos of the talk itself, but there will be a video feed that you can watch. See this link for details about the live webcast.

16:03: The talk begins. A fairly straightforward start so far. As usual, the speaker introduces the OPERA Collaboration, and gives a bit of background. Nothing ground breaking so far!

16:06: The analysis was performed blind, which means that the physicists checked and double checked their systematic uncertainties before looking at the data. This is a common best practice in these kinds of experiments and it is a good way to eliminate a lot of experimenter bias. The speaker is now discussing past results, some of which show no faster than light speed, and one of which (from MINOS) that shows a small effect which is less than 2σ.

16:16: Autiero is currently discussing the hardware of the experiment. It looks like a standard neutrino observatory setup- large amounts of dense matter (Pb), scintillation plates and tracking hardware for the muons which get produced when the neutrinos interact. By the time the beam reaches Gran Sasso it is about 2km wide! At CERN the neutrinos are produced by accelerating protons at a target, producing pions and kaons, which are then allowed to decay to muons and muon neutrinos. The hadrons are stopped with large amounts of Carbon and Iron, so that only the neutrinos and some muons survive. By the time the neutrino beam reaches Gran Sasso the muons have long since interacted and are no longer present in the beam. The neutrinos have 17GeV of energy when they leave CERN, so they are very energetic!

16:29: The discussion has moved onto the timing system, probably the most controversial aspect of the experiment. The timing challenge is probably the most difficult part of the whole analysis, and the part that particle physicists are least familiar with. Autiero points out that the same methods of timing are commonly used in metrology experiments. For OPERA, the location of each end of the experiment in space and time is determined using GPS satellites in the normal way, and then a “common view” is defined, leading to 1ns accuracy in synchronization. It looks like variations in the local clocks are corrected using the common view method. The time difference between CERN and Gran Sasso was found to be 2.3 ± 0.9 ns, consistent with the corrections.

16:36: Things are made trickier by identifying where in the “spill” of protons a neutrino came from. For a given neutrino it’s pretty much impossible to get ns precision timing, so probability density functions are used and the time interval for a given proton spill is folded into the distribution. We also don’t know where each neutrino is produced within the decay tube. The average uncertainty in this time is about 1.4ns. Autiero is now talking about the time of flight measurement in more detail, showing the proton spills and neutrino measurements overlaid.

16:39: Geodesy is important to this analysis. OPERA need to know the distance between CERN and Gran Sasso to good precision (they need to know the distances underground, which makes things more complicated.) They get a precision of 20cm in 730km. Not bad! Autiero is now showing the position information, showing evidence of continental drift and even an earthquake. This is very cool!

16:47: Two techniques are used to verify timing, using Caesium clocks and optical fibers. These agree to ns precision. The overall timing system is rather complicated, and I’m having trouble following it all!

16:48: I just got a message from a friend who saw this blog via Twitter. Hello Angela! Welcome to all the readers from Twitter!

16:52: Currently discussing event selection at Gran Sasso. Events must have a highly relativistic muon associated with them. (The speed of the muon and slight difference in direction of flight can only increase the measured time of flight.)

16:54: Autiero is telling us about how the analysis is blinded. They used very old calibrations, intentionally giving meaningless results. A novel approach to blinding!

16:56: No evidence of variation with respect to time of day or time of year. So that’s the “Earth moved!” theory sunk.

17:01: Unblinding: Δt = -987.8ns correction to time of flight after applying corrections (ie using up to date calibration.) Total systematic uncertainty is 7.4ns. Time of flight obtained using maximum likelihood. Measured difference in time of flight between speed of light and speed of neutrinos is

\delta t (c-\nu) = (60.7 \pm 6.9(stat) \pm 7.40 (syst)) ns

\frac{c-v_{\nu}}{c} = -(2.4 \pm 0.28 \pm 0.30)\times 10^{-5}

17:03: ~16,000 events observed. OPERA has spent six months checking and rechecking systematic uncertainties. Cannot account for discrepancy in terms of systematic uncertainties.

17:04: “Thank you”. Huge ripple of applause fills the auditorium.


(These questions and answers are happening fast. I probably make an error or omission here and there. Apologies. Consult the webcast for a more accurate account or for any clarifications.)

17:05: Questions are to be organized. Questions about the distance interval, then the time interval, then the experiment itself. There will be plenty of questions!

17:08: Question: How can you be sure that the timing calibrations were not subject to the same systematic uncertainties whenever they were made? Answer: Several checks made. One suggestion is to drill a direct hole. This was considered, but has an uncertainty associated of the order of 5%, too large for this experiment.

17:12: Question: Geodesy measurements were taken at one time. There are tidal effects (for example, measured at LEP.) How can you be sure that there are no further deviations in the geodesy? Answer: Many checks made and many measurements checked.

17:14: Question: Looking for an effect of 1 part in 105. Two measurements not sufficient. Movement of the Moon could affect measurements, for example. Answer: Several measurements made. Data taken over three years, tidal forces should average out.

17:15: Question: Is the 20cm uncertainty in 730km common? Answer: Similar measurements performed elsewhere. Close to state of the art. Even had to stop traffic on half the highway to get the measurement of geodesy!

17:16: Question: Do you take into account the rotation of the Earth? Answer: Yes, it’s a sub ns effect.

17:23: Question: Uncertainty at CERN is of the order of 10μs. How do you get uncertainty of 60ns at Gran Sasso? Answer: We perform a maximum likelihood analysis averaging over the (known shape) of the proton spill and use probability density functions.

(Long discussion about beam timings and maximum likelihood measurement etc.)

17:31: Large uncertainty from internal timers at each site (antenna gives large uncertainty.) Measurements of timing don’t all agree. How can you be sure of the calibration? Answer: There are advanced ways to calibrate measurements. Perform inclusive measurement using optic fibers. Comment from timing friends in the audience? Audience member: Your answer is fine. Good to get opportunity to work on timing at CERN.

17:33 Question: What about variation with respect to time of day/year? Answer: Results show no variation in day/night or Summer vs Spring+Fall.

17:35: Question: How can you be sure of geodesy measurements if they do not agree? Answer: The measurements shown are for four different points, not the same point measured four times. Clocks are also continually resynchronized.

17:37: Question: Do temperature variations affect GPS signals? Answer: Local temperature does not affect GPS measurements. Two frequencies are used to get the position in ionosphere. 1ps precision possible, but not needed for OPERA.

17:41: Question: Can you show the tails of the timing distributions with and without the correction? Is selection biasing the shapes of the fitted distributions? Answer: Not much dependence on spatial position from BCT at CERN. (Colleague from audience): The fit is performed globally. More variation present than is shown in the slides, with more features to which the fit is sensitive.

17:43: Question: Two factors in the fit: delay and normalization. Do you take normalization into account? Answer: Normalization is fixed to number of events observed. (Not normalized to the cross section.)

17:45: Question: Do you take beam stretching/squeezing into account? Answer: Timing is measured on BCT. No correlation between position in Gran Sasso and at CERN.

17:47: Question: Don’t know where muons were generated (could be in rock.) How is that taken in to account? Answer: We look at events with and without selections on muons.

17:49: Question: Do you get a better fit if you fit to the whole range and different regions? What is the χ2/n for the fits? Answer: We perform the fit on the whole range and have the values of χ2/n, but I can’t remember what they are, and they are not on the slides.

17:50: Question: What about any energy dependence of the result? Answer: We don’t claim energy dependence or rule it out with our level of precision and accuracy.

17:52: Question: Is a near experiment possible? Answer: This is a side analysis. The main aim is to search for τ appearance. (Laughter and applause from audience.) We cannot compromise our main physics focus. E-mail questions welcome!

17:53: End, and lots of applause. Time for discussion over coffee! Thanks for reading!

The start of the neutrinos journey, taken from the OPERA paper.  (http://arxiv.org/abs/1109.4897)

The start of the neutrinos journey, taken from the OPERA paper. (http://arxiv.org/abs/1109.4897)


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