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Faster than the Speed of Light?

A new study at CERN in Europe seems to have the potential to turn Physics on its head. (HT: Messiah College Physicist Abaz Kryemadhi) The problem? Neutrinos sent from CERN in Switzerland to a lab in Italy arrived faster than expected. In fact, they arrived in a time faster than the speed of light would allow. Repeated observation consistently showed the same results. Einstein’s theory of relativity depends on the speed of light as the upper bound on the speed of any object in the universe. Either Einstein was wrong and the foundations of relativity might by shaky, or there is a problem with the research. Here is a segment of the piece from the BBC:

Neutrinos sent through the ground from Cern toward the Gran Sasso laboratory 732km away in Italy seemed to show up a tiny fraction of a second early.

The results – which threaten to upend a century of physics – were put online for scrutiny by other scientists.

In the meantime, the group says it is being very cautious about its claims.

They will be discussing the result in detail in a conference at Cern on Friday afternoon, which can be viewed online.

“We tried to find all possible explanations for this,” said report author Antonio Ereditato of the Opera collaboration.

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

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

It is likely that there is a problem with the research, or at least a simple explanation. The theory of relativity has proven to be accurate so pervasively in use that there is practically no chance that this will have a major impact on what has been discovered so far. Still, if this does reveal something new, I think it is cool that we will have found out something unexpected and new about the way God’s Creation works!

Here is the xkcd take on the news, with the mouse-over text in the caption.

I can't speak to the paper's scientific merits, but it's really cool how on page 10 you can see that their reference GPS beacon is sensitive enough to pick up continential drift under the detector (interrupted halfway through by an earthquake).

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