Copied, in full from my site: Coffee Loving Skeptic.

As part of the OPERA experiment, physicists tracked how long it takes for neutrons generated at CERN to reach a detector 730km away in Italy. European physicists have measured tiny particles called neutrinos moving just faster than the speed of light.

The scientists sent a beam of neutrinos from CERN, on the Swiss-French border near Geneva, to the INFN (Istituto Nazionale di Fisica Nucleare) Gran Sasso Laboratory in central Italy, 730 kilometers (454 miles) away, in a research project called OPERA. The physicists had planned to study a rare event, the transformation of the muon variety of neutrinos into the tau variety. Instead, they found the extraordinary result that the neutrinos appeared to travel faster than the speed of light.

Does this mean we need to throw away all of Einstein’s physics? (Under Einsteinian physics, nothing can exceed the speed of light, and so far, nothing has challenged that conclusion). Not yet, but it is certainly an exciting development. Antonio Ereditato added “words of caution” to his Cern presentation because of the “potentially great impact on physics” of the result. (source)

The speed of light is widely held to be the Universe’s ultimate speed limit, (299,792 kilometers per second) and much of modern physics – as laid out in part by Albert Einstein in his theory of special relativity – depends on the idea that nothing can exceed it. Thousands of experiments have been undertaken to measure it ever more precisely, and no result has ever spotted a particle breaking the limit.

“We tried to find all possible explanations for this,”

the report’s author Antonio Ereditato of the Opera collaboration told BBC News on Thursday evening.

“We wanted to find a mistake – trivial mistakes, more complicated mistakes, or nasty effects – and we didn’t.

“When you don’t find anything, then you say ‘well, now I’m forced to go out and ask the community to scrutinise this’.”

And scrutinise it they will. The beauty of real sciences, as opposed to pseudoscience and the supernatural, is that they are based on evidence and peer-review before people take things as law or theory. It is now time for other physicists to try to figure out if the measurements could have been wrong and to see if they can be reproduced. If the results hold up, it won’t be the first time scientific beliefs have been upended, but Einstein’s work has held up superbly under decades of verification and challenge.

The researchers will detail their results at CERN, and they’ve published the results in a paper at Arxiv, a site for research that’s not yet passed the peer-review scrutiny required for publication in academic journals.

Heinrich Paes, a physicist at Dortmund University, has developed another theory that could explain the result. The neutrinos may be taking a shortcut through space-time, by travelling from Cern to Gran Sasso through extra dimensions.

“That can make it look like a particle has gone faster than the speed of light when it hasn’t,” he said.

The history of science may be littered with claims that were ultimately proved false, but some outrageous ideas turn out to be true in the end. Take dark matter, the mysterious, invisible stuff that outweighs the visible stars and galaxies by a factor of 10 to 1. When it was first proposed in the 1930s, nobody believed it. When it reappeared in the 1960s, everyone laughed. Now it’s firmly accepted as a fundamental part of the universe. Very exciting! Maybe I will get to create my time-travelling DeLorean after all ;)


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Comment by Luis Contreras on September 26, 2011 at 4:54am

Beauty of science isn't it? I still don't get how religion trumps science for most of the population. 


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