CERN reported that a neutrino beam fired from a particle accelerator near Geneva to a lab 454 miles (730 kilometers) away in Italy traveled 60 nanoseconds faster than the speed of light. Scientists calculated the margin of error at just 10 nanoseconds. (A nanosecond is one-billionth of a second.)
European researchers at the CERN lab near Geneva said they clocked an oddball type of subatomic particle called a neutrino going faster than the 186,282 miles per second that has long been considered the cosmic speed limit.
Antonio Ereditato, spokesman for the international group of researchers, said that measurements taken over three years showed neutrinos pumped from CERN near Geneva to Gran Sasso in Italy had arrived 60 nanoseconds quicker than light would have done.
“We have high confidence in our results. We have checked and rechecked for anything that could have distorted our measurements but we found nothing,” he said. “We now want colleagues to check them independently.”
If the findings are proven to be accurate, they would overturn one of the pillars of the Standard Model of physics, which explains the way the universe and everything within it works.
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 claim they have recorded neutrinos, a type of tiny particle, travelling faster than the barrier of 186,282 miles (299,792 kilometers) per second.
Einstein’s theory underlies “pretty much everything in modern physics,” said John Ellis, a theoretical physicist at CERN who was not involved in the experiment. “It has worked perfectly up until now.”
The claim was met with skepticism, with one outside physicist calling it the equivalent of saying you have a flying carpet. In fact, the researchers themselves are not ready to proclaim a discovery and are asking other physicists to independently try to verify their findings.
Fermilab team spokeswoman Jenny Thomas, a physics professor at the University College of London, said there must be a “more mundane explanation” for the European findings. She said Fermilab’s experience showed how hard it is to measure accurately the distance, time and angles required for such a claim.
Nevertheless, Fermilab, which shoots neutrinos from Chicago to Minnesota, has already begun working to try to verify or knock down the new findings.
Gillies told The Associated Press that the readings have so astounded researchers that “they are inviting the broader physics community to look at what they’ve done and really scrutinize it in great detail, and ideally for someone elsewhere in the world to repeat the measurements.”
Light would have covered the distance in around 2.4 thousandths of a second, but the neutrinos took 60 nanoseconds – or 60 billionths of a second – less than light beams would have taken.
“It is a tiny difference,” said Ereditato, who also works at Berne University in Switzerland, “but conceptually it is incredibly important. The finding is so startling that, for the moment, everybody should be very prudent.”
The existence of the neutrino, an elementary sub-atomic particle with a tiny amount of mass created in radioactive decay or in nuclear reactions such as those in the Sun, was first confirmed in 1934, but it still mystifies researchers.
It can pass through most matter undetected, even over long distances, and without being affected. Millions pass through the human body every day, scientists say.
Stephen Parke, who is head theoretician at the Fermilab near Chicago and was not part of the research, said: “It’s a shock. It’s going to cause us problems, no doubt about that – if it’s true.”
Even if these results are confirmed, they won’t change at all the way we live or the way the world works. After all, these particles have presumably been speed demons for billions of years. But the finding will fundamentally alter our understanding of how the universe operates, physicists said.
If the European findings are correct, “this would change the idea of how the universe is put together,” Columbia University physicist Brian Greene, author of the book “Fabric of the Cosmos,” said. But he added: “I would bet just about everything I hold dear that this won’t hold up to scrutiny.” [via The Telegraph and Huff Post]