Faster-than-light Neutrinos could undermine Einstein

Chris Davies - Sep 23, 2011
Faster-than-light Neutrinos could undermine Einstein

Einstein's theory of special relativity, one of the core tenets of modern physics, could have been discovered flawed according to particle speed experiments by a group of Italian scientists. The team found sub-atomic particles fired from the CERN particle research facility in Geneva toward the Gran Sasso Laboratory in Italy arrived quicker than light would be expected to, Reuters reports, with the neutrinos turning up at the scientists' sensors 60 nanoseconds earlier than light could.

60 nanoseconds isn't long in the scheme of things, but for physicists it could be one of the biggest time issues of modern science. Einstein's theory claims that nothing in the known-universe can travel faster than light does, a 1905 argument that has so far stood up to repeated testing. "We have high confidence in our results" research spokesperson Antonio Ereditato insisted. "We have checked and rechecked for anything that could have distorted our measurements but we found nothing."

The three year project fired 15,000 neutrinos from the CERN facility - where the Large Hadron Collider is based - to detectors in Italy, 500 miles away. Light would cover that distance in 2.4 thousandths of a second; the neutrinos beat light with 60 nanoseconds to spare.

The next step with the findings, Ereditato says, is for "colleagues to check them independently." The team has declined to speculate on the greater implications, if no errors are discovered, but already sci-fi-minded observers are pointing to time travel potential, at least in theory.

[Image credit: Paolo Lombardi INFN-MI]

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