In a discovery that could question Einstein's longstanding fundamental laws of the universe, an international team of scientists announced Thursday that they had successfully recorded subatomic particles traveling at speeds higher than light.
Antonio Ereditato, spokesman for the researchers, told Reuters that neutrinos pumped from CERN near Geneva to Gran Sasso in Italy had arrived 60 nanoseconds quicker than light, according to measurements taken over three years.
We have high confidence in our results. We have checked and rechecked for anything that could have distorted our measurements but we found nothing, Ereditato said. We now want colleagues to check them independently.
The claims of new discovery, if confirmed, have the potential to question Einstein's special theory of relativity, proposed in 1905, which says the speed of light is the same for all inertial observers regardless of the state of motion of the source and nothing (except hypothetical subatomic particles) can attain speeds higher than light.
The discovery of particles that attain faster-than-light speeds would upset Einstein's theory, which forms one of the fundamentals of the standard model of physics.
Physicists working on an experiment dubbed OPERA run jointly by the CERN particle research center near Geneva and the Gran Sasso Laboratory in central Italy found the particles by firing a total of 15,000 beams of neutrinos -- tiny particles that pervade the cosmos -- over three years from CERN toward Gran Sasso, 730 km (500 miles) away, where they were picked up by giant detectors.
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, Reuters report stated.
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.
Under the special theory of relativity, a particle (that has mass) with subluminal velocity needs infinite energy to accelerate to the speed of light, although special relativity does not forbid the existence of particles that travel faster than light at all times, for instance tachyons. A tachyon is a hypothetical subatomic particle that moves faster than light. In the language of special relativity, a tachyon would be a particle with space-like four-momentum and imaginary proper time, which cannot slow down to subluminal speeds.