Scientists have said they have clocked subatomic particles travelling faster than light – a feat that, if true, would break Albert Einstein’s special theory of relativity and undermine laws that underpin physics.
The Cern team says a neutrino beam fired from a particle accelerator near Geneva to a lab 730km (454 miles) away in Italy travelled 60 nanoseconds faster than the speed of light.
They calculated the margin of error at just ten nanoseconds, making the difference statistically significant.
The researchers have asked others to independently verify the data before claiming the discovery.
‘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.
But other experts have remained cautious.
‘This would be such a sensational discovery, if it were true, that one has to treat it extremely carefully,’ said physicist John Ellis.
‘The feeling that most people have is this can’t be right, this can’t be real,’ said James Gillies, a spokesman for Cern, which also hosts the massive Large Hadron Collider which did not take part in the experiment.
Einstein insisted nothing could travel faster than light – 300,000km (186,282 miles) a second.
He reasoned something that travels faster than light would, in theory, arrive before it left.
Special relativity, which helps explain everything from black holes to the Big Bang theory about the origins of the universe, underlies ‘pretty much everything in modern physics,’ added Mr Ellis. ‘It has worked perfectly up until now.’
He also warned that the neutrino researchers would also have to explain why similar results weren’t detected before, such as when stars exploded.
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