## Einstein's "Speed of Light" Challenged By Neutrino Experiment

Posted: 10.11.11
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The speed of light, roughly 186,282 miles per second, has been a rule of physics for the past 100 years. Now a team of scientists says that the rule may have been broken.
 A group of European physicists may have discovered that subatomic particles travel faster than the speed of light (the constant c in Einstein's equation). This could call our fundamental understanding of the universe into question.

A team of international scientists claims that small particles may have broken the speed of light. The OPERA experiment launched small, uncharged particles called neutrinos through the earth from Geneva, Switzerland to Gran Sasso, Italy, 454 miles away.

According to the team's calculations, the particles were able to travel the distance around 60 nanoseconds faster than the speed of light. Because neutrino particles are so small and contain no electrons or protons, they can pass through matter unaffected. Billions of neutrinos pass through the human body every day.

### "Speed of Light" a cornerstone of science

 In the scientific formula E = mc2, E is energy, m is mass and c represents the speed of light.

The speed of light plays an important role in Einstein's Theory of Special Relativity. The theory has two main parts: the rules of physics are the same for all things, and nothing can travel faster than the speed of light. These two concepts were the basis for how we’ve view our universe for the last century. In the formula E = mc2, where E is energy and m is mass, c represents the speed of light.

Energy is defined as the “capacity of a system to do work.” Work can mean anything from an airplane flying from one place to another, a baseball thrown into a catcher’s glove, or a human texting with a cell phone. Calculating the energy for all of those things requires the speed of light.

### Problems could arise for physicists

 Controversial theories such as time travel and alternate dimension have been featured in books, plays and films.
If the speed of light has truly been broken, energy would have to be reviewed and rethought.

The theory of gravity - also based upon the speed of light - would need to be revised.

And because the Theory of Special Relativity says that the speed of light is the fastest speed in the universe, if it were broken, any object going faster than the speed of light would theoretically go backwards in time. This would make controversial theories such as time travel and alternate dimensions more plausible.

### Controversy over the experiment methods

 The OPERA experiment took place at a labaratory housed at the European Organization for Nuclear Research in Geneva, Switzerland.

Many scientists are skeptical about the results of the OPERA experiment. The primary concerns are that the time and distance between the two points in Switzerland and Italy was not measured properly.

According to a press release put out by the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN), which houses the laboratory where the experiment took place, the neutrinos were timed using atomic clocks and advanced GPS systems accurate up to 10 nanoseconds, while the distance was measured within eight inches.

Antonio Ereditato, a spokesman for the experiment, said in a press release that it is too early to make any real conclusions. “The potential impact on science is too large to draw immediate conclusions or attempt physics interpretations," he said. Ereditato added that they would like other organizations to check their results. "While OPERA researchers will continue their studies, we are also looking forward to independent measurements to fully assess the nature of this observation,” said Ereditato.

### Other organizations to double check results

 What are neutrinos? Neutrinos are tiny, nearly massless particles that travel at near lightspeeds. Born from violent astrophysical events like exploding stars and gamma ray bursts, they are fantastically abundant in the universe, and can move as easily through lead as we move through air.
Similar experiments in the U.S. and Japan work with neutrino particles.

Fermilab, a U.S. Department of Energy Laboratory in Illinois, will conduct a similar experiment to try and verify the results from the OPERA experiment.

Fermilab had previously launched neutrinos from Illinois to Minnesota. Their equipment is currently being upgraded, and they expect to be able to conduct a more accurate experiment than OPERA within six months.
--Compiled by Jason Villemez for NewsHour Extra
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