Physicists worldwide were baffled and shocked when a group of European scientists announced last week that they had successfully recorded subatomic particles called neutrinos traveling at speeds higher than light.
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 the famous equation of E = mc2, which stands for energy equals mass times the speed of light squared.
However, several physicists including 2006 Physics Nobel Prize winner, George Smoot III, have expressed doubts. They said results announced by scientists, dubbed as OPERA (Oscillation Project with Emulsion-Tracking Apparatus) are incorrect and that Einstein's theory of special relativity will remain uncontested.
I'm willing to bet money that it's not correct. There are many distortions in physics. You have to have a very high standard to see if something is truly correct, George Smoot III told Xinhua.
Meanwhile, Fermilab, a U.S. Department of Energy laboratory in Chicago, is set to test the new findings which defy accepted physics and hint at the possibility of time travel.
In an attempt to measure the speed of the neutrinos again, the Fermilab team will be using similar equipment -- called MINOS -- used in 2007 to conduct the same experiment.
We're updating the [MINOS] to measure more precisely the time that it takes the neutrinos to travel from Fermilab to the detector in Minnesota, spokesman Kurt Riesselmann told the Sydney Morning Herald.
The laboratory will also be taking new data next year in an attempt to be in a better position to confirm or refute the findings that OPERA project reported last week.
The OPERA neutrino experiment at the underground Gran Sasso Laboratory has measured the velocity of neutrinos from the CERN CNGS beam over a baseline of about 730 kilometers with much higher accuracy than previous studies conducted with accelerator neutrinos.
Scientists disclosed that a neutrino launched from a particle accelerator close to Geneva toward 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 traveled at 299,798,454 meters per second, faster than the speed of light, which is pegged at 299,792,458 meters per second.
Though the difference of speed compared to light is small, it could challenge the entire laws 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.
The team is very cautious - after all as 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.
But many are not convinced. Carlos Rubbia, who won the Nobel Prize for physics in 1984, said: I will be very, very surprised that, at last, Einstein will not be the winner.
What it is pretending to find, in my view, is unbelievably surprising, he said. He says the new finding remains a very experimental consideration, adding that revealing the results of the experiments to the public this early was a mistake.
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. Einstein had said if there was a way to send a message faster than light, then the possibility of sending a telegram to the past was real. But his theory of special relativity holds that the speed of light speed was a cosmic constant and that nothing could travel faster.
British physicist Jim Al-Khalili said there would probably be an error in the data. If the CERN experiment proves to be correct and neutrinos have broken the speed of light, I will eat my boxer shorts on live TV, he told the Telegraph.