Particles Faster Than Light: A New Concept Physicists Have to Grapple With

   on September 25 2011 10:31 PM

Scientists worldwide are baffled and shocked at the claims made by physicists that they had successfully recorded subatomic particles traveling at speeds higher than light.

According to scientists at the Gran Sasso facility in central Italy, years-long experiments showed that subatomic particles known as neutrinos breached the speed of light, which is long established as the cosmic speed limit.

If the claim turns out to be true, it will prove Einstein's theory of special relativity wrong -- a theory that's the basis of the modern physics that states nothing can travel faster than light, resulting in famous equation of E = mc2, which stands for energy equals mass times the speed of light squared.

“The report has sent scientists into a tizzy because a particle traveling faster than the speed of light would violate causality. In other words, an event can have an effect on an earlier event, Michael Witherell, vice chancellor for research at the University of California, Santa Barbara, physics department, told TechNewsWorld.

That would completely overturn our understanding of physical reality, and the results would have to be reproduced in several experiments using different techniques before they're accepted, Witherell said.

Using a particle detector called the Oscillation Project with Emulsion-tRacking Apparatus or OPERA, the speed of neutrino particles was measured from its launching at the CERN laboratory near Geneva, Switzerland to its arrival at the underground facility of Italy's Gran Sasso National Laboratory.

Scientists disclosed that a neutrino launched from a particle accelerator close to Geneva to another laboratory 454 miles away in Italy traveled 60 nanoseconds faster than the speed of light. The margin of error was calculated to be only 10 nanoseconds, making the difference numerically significant.

Although some experts continue to doubt the claims, the research actually showed the neutrinos travelled at 299,798,454 metres per second, faster than the speed of light, which is pegged at 299,792,458 metres per second.

Though the difference of speed compared to light is small, it could challenge the entire law of physics, open up the possibility of time travel and play havoc with longstanding notions of cause and effect. A lot of science-fiction stories are based on the concept that if the light-speed barrier can be overcome, time travel might theoretically become possible.

It's a shock. It's going to cause us problems, no doubt about that — if it's true, said Stephen Parke, who is head theoretician at the Fermilab near Chicago, The Wall Street Journal reported.

“If this result holds, and I kind of doubt it, it means we'll have to rewrite all of modern physics. Einstein has come out ahead every single time. However, this time you're talking about the largest particle accelerator in the world registering a significant deviation in relativity, said Physicist Michio Kaku of City College of New York, The Wall Street Journal reported.

The team is very cautious -- after all, Einstein's theories have been challenged many times before, and never overturned.

We have high confidence in our results. We have checked and rechecked for anything that could have distorted our measurements but we found nothing. We now want colleagues to check them independently,” Antonio Ereditato, lead author of the study, told Reuters.

It remains to be seen whether the discovery of OPERA is correct as these findings have yet to be independently verified.

My dream would be that another, independent experiment finds the same thing. Then I would be relieved, Ereditato told BBC.

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