Antonio Ereditato, the spokesman for an international team of scientists at the European laboratory for particle physics (Laboratoire européen pour la physique des particules) told Reuters today that measurements taken over three years showed that the neutrinos pumped from a location near Geneva, Switzerland to Gran Sasso, in Italy, had arrived 60 nanoseconds sooner than light would – ordinarily – have done:
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.
If the findings are confirmed, such a discovery would be at odds with Albert Einstein’s theory of special relativity – of more than a hundred years ago – which says the speed of light is a “cosmic constant” and there is nothing in the universe that travels faster.
If true, the so-called Standard Model of particle physics (which allows that neutrinos have no mass; are electrically neutral, and can pass through distances, even within matter, to no effect) would no longer be a candidate for the so-called ‘Theory of everything,” or a “unified field theory.” Modern physicists believe that there are four fundamental forces, each mediated by ‘fields,’ and that the four interactions to be ‘unified’ are:
- Gravitational: acting on all particles, with an exchange particle known as a graviton
- Strong interaction: responsible for holding quarks together, forming neutrons and protons, to form nuclei. The exchange particle here is the gluon
- Weak Interaction: acting on electrons, neutrinos, and quarks – responsible for some forms of radioactivity. The exchange particles here are the W and Z bosons (W +, W – and Z).
- Electromagnetic interaction: interacting on electrically-charged particles. The photon is the exchange particle for this force.
This very unexpected finding – of a “faster-than-light” particle – emerges from an experiment called OPERA, that’s jointly run by the INFN Gran Sasso National Laboratory and the European Organization for Nuclear Research – CERN. According to Reuters, the neutrinos were fired over a 3-year period, and were then picked up by enormous detectors as having taken less time (60 billionths of a second) than the light beams themselves would have taken. The website for CERN explains further:
The OPERA result is based on the observation of over 15000 neutrino events measured at Gran Sasso, and appears to indicate that the neutrinos travel at a velocity 20 parts per million above the speed of light, nature’s cosmic speed limit. Given the potential far-reaching consequences of such a result, independent measurements are needed before the effect can either be refuted or firmly established. This is why the OPERA collaboration has decided to open the result to broader scrutiny.
Startling in its significance, this challenges all sorts of theories, if these measurements are found to be accurate. It is believed by some that were the light|speed barrier to be surmounted, even time travel itself could be at least a “theoretical” possibility.
Facilities at CERN that are open to the public include The Globe of Science and Innovation, which is used four times a week for special exhibits; and the Microcosm museum on particle physics.