Faster Than Light Particles Could Wreck Einstein's Relativity Theory

This is extremely shocking: CERN scientists using a 1300-ton particle detector have measured particles travelling faster than the speed of light. If confirmed, this discovery could invalidate Albert Einstein's 1905 theory of special relativity and revolutionize physics.

Einstein's theory says that there's nothing in the universe that could travel faster than light. Now, CERN scientists believe this may be wrong according to their latest experiment.

The 3-year experiment timed about 16,000 neutrino packets launched from CERN facilities in Geneva, travelling through Earth and arriving 2.43 milliseconds later to the subterranean facilities of Italy's Gran Sasso National Laboratory. There, the Oscillation Project with Emulsion-tRacking Apparatus (the OPERA particle detector) recorded the hits.

When scientists discovered that the particles were arriving 60 nanoseconds faster than the speed of light—with only a 10 nanosecond error margin—they freaked out. I don't blame them. Imagine someone comes to you to tell you that a new observation shows that planet Earth is actually flat.

But University of Bern's Antonio Ereditato—spokesperson for the 160-member OPERA team—says that the experiment is "a straightforward time-of-flight measurement." It was repeatable, so they couldn't ignore it because that would be dishonest: "[T]he consequences can be very serious [...] We are forced to say something [...] We have high confidence in our results. But we need other colleagues to do their tests and confirm them."

Faster Than Light Particles Could Wreck Einstein's Relativity TheoryS

The news are so extraordinary that other physicists are already saying this is impossible. Chang Kee Jung—a neutrino physicist at Stony Brook University in New York—believes it's a systematic error. Jung is the spokesperson for a similar project in Japan. Indiana University's physicist Alan Kostelecky believes that, while it may be possible that neutrinos can travel faster than light, the experiment needs to be repeated "by at least one and preferably several experiments." There are other facilities that could be used to run the same test, one of them is Fermilab in Chicago. The other one is the T2K experiment in Japan, the one in which Jung participates.

Still, Kostelecky confesses that he "would be delighted if it were true." I would be delighted too. I love when the world goes crazy. [Sciencemag, SeattlePi, io9, Reuters]