Physicists on the team that measured particles traveling faster than light said Friday they were as surprised as their skeptics about the results, which appear to violate the laws of nature as we know them.
Hundreds of scientists packed an auditorium at one of the world’s foremost laboratories on the Swiss-French border to hear how a subatomic particle, the neutrino, was found to have outrun light and confounded the theories of Albert Einstein.
“To our great surprise we found an anomaly,” said Antonio Ereditato, who participated in the experiment and speaks on behalf of the team.
An anomaly is a mild way of putting it.
Going faster than light is something that is just not supposed to happen, according to Einstein’s 1905 special theory of relativity. The speed of light — 186,282 miles per second — has long been considered a cosmic speed limit.
The team — a collaboration between France’s National Institute for Nuclear and Particle Physics Research and Italy’s Gran Sasso National Laboratory — fired a neutrino beam 454 miles underground from Geneva to Italy.
They found it traveled 60 nanoseconds faster than light. That’s sixty billionth of a second, a time no human brain could register.
“You could say it’s peanuts, but it’s not. It’s something that we can measure rather accurately with a small uncertainty,” Ereditato told The Associated Press.
If the experiment is independently repeated — most likely by teams in the United States or Japan — then it would require a fundamental rethink of modern physics.
“Everybody knows that the speed limit is c, the speed of light. And if you find some matter particle such as the neutrino going faster than light, this is something which immediately shocks everybody, including us,” said Ereditato, a researcher at the University of Bern, Switzerland.
Physicists not involved in the experiment have been understandably skeptical.
Alvaro De Rujula, a theoretical physicist at CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research outside Geneva from where the neutron beam was fired, said he blamed the readings on a so-far undetected human error.
If not, and it’s a big if, the door would be opened to some wild possibilities.
One of the most fundamental theories of physics has been challanged and if indeed its possible to travel faster than the speed of light then the way we see our universe will also change, with it the theory of big bang. A lot hangs in the balance, this truly is a historic moment