Particles can move faster than light, scientists say | Science| In-depth reporting on science and technology | DW | 22.09.2011
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Science

Particles can move faster than light, scientists say

After three years of testing, physicists say that they have recorded neutrinos breaking what was believed to be the fastest speed possible. If confirmed, the results would significantly contradict Einstein's theories.

Einstein's theory concerning the speed of light

According to Einstein's theories, nothing travels faster than light

On Thursday evening, a team of international physicists said they had recorded the movement of neutrinos, a sub-atomic particle, moving faster than light. If the result proves to be correct, this finding could fundamentally contradict one of Einstein's prime theories, which stipulates that nothing in the universe can travel faster than light.

In a series of experiments conducted over three years between the European Center for Nuclear Research (CERN), in Switzerland, and another physics lab in Italy, scientists fired neutrinos the 730 kilometers (450 miles) between the two facilities. The team found that the neutrinos travelled 300,006 kilometers per second, which is about six kilometers per second faster than the speed of light.

According to the AFP news agency, Antonio Ereditato, the team's spokesperson, said that his colleagues had spent half a year "checking, testing, controlling and rechecking everything."

"We have high confidence in our results," Ereditato, who is also a professor of physics at the University of Bern in Switzerland, in an interview with Reuters.

The CERN research center

Europe's CERN research center was involved in the results

"We have checked and rechecked for anything that could have distorted our measurements but we found nothing," he noted. "We now want colleagues to check them independently."

A 'revolutionary' finding

The results have sent cautious ripples through the particle physics world.

Pierre Binetruy, a French physicist at the College de France, told the AFP that after having reviewed the data, the results were "altogether revolutionary."

"The theory of general relativity, the theory of special relativity - both are called into question," he said.

"If you give up the speed of light, then the construction of special relativity falls down," said Antonino Zichichi, a theoretical physicist and emeritus professor at the University of Bologna, Italy, in an interview with Nature.com.

He speculated that these faster-than-light neutrinos may be passing through extra dimensions in space, which have been predicted in cutting edge theories, like string theory.

Ereditato added that the results would be published online and presented formally at CERN on Friday.

Author: Cyrus Farivar (AFP, Reuters)
Editor: Richard Connor

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