Researchers have claimed that they have been able to record particles traveling at speeds faster than that of light, throwing open once again the debate on the possibility of time travel.
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. The new finding goes against the grain of Einsteinian theory of special relativity.
Scientists will present evidence of their new finding on Friday at CERN, the European nuclear research facility.
If the finding is true, it will have far-reaching implications as the hitherto accepted precept was that nothing can travel faster than the speed of light.
According to researchers, the experiments showed that neutrinos travelled from the particle accelerator at the CERN facility near Geneva to the Gran Sasso facility in Italy at a speed marginally higher than that of light. The subatomic particles took sixty billionths of a second, or 60 nanoseconds, less than what a light beam would take to race through the distance of about 450 miles. The experiment had an error margin of plus or minus 10 billionths of a second, according to scientists.
The research 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.
Researchers on the Opera (Oscillation Project with Emulsion-Racking Apparatus) project said though they were excited by the result it won't be claimed as a discovery until other people confirm it.
When you get such a result you want to make sure you made no mistakes, that there are no nasty things going on you didn't think of. We spent months and months doing checks and we have not been able to find any errors, Opera coordinator Antonio Ereditato told The Guardian.
He told the BBC that the Opera team decided to put the results up for peer scrutiny as they were astonished by the results. “My dream would be that another, independent experiment finds the same thing ... Then I would be relieved,” he said.
According to NYT, if the theory is proved right, it would open up the possibility of time travel and play havoc with longstanding notions of cause and effect. The report points out that Einstein himself had said if there was a way to send a message faster than light the possibility of sending a “telegram to the past” was real.
Early reports suggest that there was a mixed reaction from the scientific community. While some were plain flabbergasted, others attacked the new postulation.
According to The New York Times, a chorus of physicists have already argued that it was way too soon to give up on Einstein and that there was probably some experimental error.
“These guys have done their level best, but before throwing Einstein on the bonfire, you would like to see an independent experiment,” said John Ellis, a CERN theorist who has published work on the speeds neutrinos, NYT reported.
Another CERN theorist, Alvaro DeRejula, said the claim was “flabbergasting.” “If it is true, then we truly haven’t understood anything about anything ... It looks too big to be true. The correct attitude is to ask oneself what went wrong,” he said, according to the report.
Subir Sarkar, head of particle theory at Oxford University, said if the finding is true it would be a massive event that is nobody was expecting. The constancy of the speed of light essentially underpins our understanding of space and time and causality, which is the fact that cause comes before effect, he said, according to The Guardian.