IT IS one of the most fundamental pillars of physics — but Einstein’s theory of relativity could have some (subatomic) holes in it. If the results hold true, it would be the biggest upset in physics in decades.
Scientists at the world’s largest physics laboratory say they have recorded subatomic particles, known as neutrinos, travelling faster than the speed of light.
According to Albert Einstein’s 1905 theory of special relativity — known by the equation E= mc^2 — that feat is impossible. If the findings are correct, it would force a major rethink of the fundamental laws of nature, including how the universe works.
James Gillies, a spokesman for the European Organisation for Nuclear Research, or CERN, said the readings have so astounded researchers that they are asking others to verify them before claiming a discovery.
“The feeling that most people have is this can’t be right, this can’t be real,” he said. “They are inviting the broader physics community to look at what they’ve done and really scrutinise it in great detail, and ideally for someone elsewhere in the world to repeat the measurements.” Einstein’s theory states that energy is equal to mass multiplied by the speed of light squared, so firing an object faster than that would require an infinite amount of energy. After the findings, scientists at the competing Fermilab in Chicago have promised to start such work immediately.
“It’s a shock,” said Fermilab head theoretician Stephen Parke, who was not part of the research in Geneva. “ It’s going to cause us problems, no doubt about that — if it’s true.” The Chicago team had similar faster- than- light results in 2007, but those came with a giant margin of error that undercut its scientific significance.
Outside scientists expressed scepticism at CERN’s claim that the neutrinos — one of the strangest well-known particles in physics — were observed smashing past the cosmic speed barrier of 186,282 miles per second (299,792 kilometres per second).
University of Maryland physics department chairman Drew Baden called it “a flying carpet”, something that was too fantastic to be believable.
CERN says a neutrino beam fired from a particle accelerator near Geneva to a lab 454 miles (730 kilometres) away in Italy travelled 60 nanoseconds faster than the speed of light.
Scientists calculated the margin of error at just 10 nanoseconds, making the difference statistically significant. But given the enormous implications of the find, they still spent months checking and rechecking their results to make sure there were no flaws in the experiment.
“We have not found any instrumental effect that could explain the result of the measurement,” said Antonio Ereditato, a physicist at the University of Bern, Switzerland, who was involved in the experiment known as OPERA. The CERN researchers are now looking to the United States and Japan to confirm the results. The experiment at CERN was conducted in collaboration with Italy’s Gran Sasso National Laboratory.
Article source: Mail Today