CERN Large Hadrod Collider

Scientists Track Faster than Light Particle

CERN Large Hadrod Collider
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"Scientists Track Faster than Light Particle"
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Was Einstein wrong? That's the question being asked by amazed physicists across the globe upon the heels of a report on experiments conducted over three years.

Faster-than-light particles measured

Scientists at CERN, the home of the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) managed to measure subatomic particles called neutrinos that appear to exceed the speed of light by sixty billionths of a second.

Light travels at a speed of 186,282 miles per second and Albert Einstein's math (E=MC²) proved that nothing can exceed that velocity in his 1905 special theory of relativity.  Some physicists call it the universal speed limit.

But perhaps Einstein was mistaken.

To the layman, such a tiny increase in velocity may seem insignificant, but the velocity  violates the theory formulated by Einstein and relied on as a bedrock of research for almost a century by generations of nuclear physicists and astronomers.

If the measurement of the atomic particle speed holds it will be one of those momentous breakthroughs in science that occur by chance. The CERn team wasn't looking for proof of Faster-than-light (FTL) particles—no one thought they exist—instead they were seeking to study the nature of neutrinos.

The shocking calculation that neutrinos projected to the Gran Sasso lab arrived faster than expected sent the team reeling.

What are neutrinos?

Although one of the basic particles that comprise the building blocks of the universe, neutrinos are not well understood.

While similar in nature to the electron neutrinos don't have an electrical charge. Because of the lack of charge they don't interact with electromagnetic fields.

Particle physicists have found neutrinos react to the "weak" atomic force and can sail through massive amounts of matter with no interaction. When their properties were first being understood some scientists called them "ghost particles."

Some neutrinos have mass. If they do have mass then they can interact with matter gravitationally.

CERN proceeding with caution

The group knows the magnitude of the discovery if the measurement is proven accurate. Because of the shake-up the world of physics would experience by the discovery of FTL particles, the team is proceeding cautiously.

Report author Antonio Ereditato told the BBC News, "We tried to find all possible explanations for this. We wanted to find a mistake—trivial mistakes, more complicated mistakes, or nasty effects—and we didn't."

The team decided to ask other researchers across the world to double-check their data and reconstruct the experiment. "When you don't find anything, then you say 'Well, now I'm forced to go out and ask the community to scrutinize this.'"

James Gillies, a spokesman for the European Organization for Nuclear Research understands the caution. "The feeling that most people have is this can't be right, this can't be real," he told the Associated Press.

The world's physicists are in agreement that if the CERN measurements prove true, the laws of nature will have to be revised.

More about this author: Terrence Aym

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