02 November 2011
Posted in Science Park
Shocking test have made physicists question Albert Einstein’s cardinal rule of physics: nothing is faster than the speed of light. At the European Center for Nuclear Research (CERN), OPERA, a team of physicists, shot neutrinos out of a particle accelerator and measured how long it took the particles to travel to a neutrino detector. Neutrinos are subatomic particles that have very little mass and can zoom through planets like they were not even there.
It was expected that these particles would be close in speed to light. However, their speed was 60 nanoseconds faster than expected, surprising many scientists. Although a nanosecond seems very small, over a distance of 621 miles, neutrinos would travel about 66 feet farther than light travels in the same time. If this discovery is accurate, it would be “revolutionary”, according to physicist Stephen Parke, because most theorists believe nothing can travel faster than the speed of light.
A number of physicists have been skeptical about this finding because it would wreak havoc on scientific theories of cause and effect. Speculation looms that there might be instrument errors among the OPERA team causing these findings to be inaccurate. Louis Striggari, an astrophysicist at Stanford University, said, "There have been several instances where, through no fault of the experimenters, the equipment was not understood as well as it needed to be."
Even the OPERA team is being cautious about their findings allowing others to repeat the experiment. However, over the past month, many different physicists have had trouble repeating the experiment. There have been no concrete findings yet and physicists will continue experimenting with neutrinos.