Faster-than-light travel observed ... of neutrinos, maybe
By Ben Coxworth
September 23, 2011
According to Einstein's restricted theory of relativity, nothing can travel faster than light in a vacuum. Up until today, that had pretty much seemed to be the case, too. Early this morning, however, researchers from the Geneva-based OPERA project announced that the results from one of their recent experiments indicate that neutrinos can in fact outrun light particles.
Neutrinos are electrically-neutral subatomic particles, with almost no mass. The OPERA project has been studying the characteristics of a neutrino beam that is generated by the CERN accelerators in Geneva, Switzerland, and detected when it arrives 730 kilometers (454 miles) to the south at an underground laboratory in Gran Sasso, Italy.
It takes photons (light particles) 2.4 milliseconds to make the trip. When neutrinos were tested, however, they reached Gran Sasso 60 nanoseconds sooner - this amounts to them traveling 20 parts per million faster than the speed of light.
The scientists are stymied by the results. "This outcome is totally unexpected," stated CERN spokesperson Antonio Ereditato. "Months of research and verifications have not been sufficient to identify an instrumental effect that could explain the result of our measurements."
If the observations are in fact accurate, the implications for the world of physics will be staggering. To that end, OPERA has submitted its data to the scientific community for evaluation, and is encouraging other groups to attempt to replicate its results.
A seminar on the findings will be webcast live today by CERN at 4:00pm CEST.