|The OPERA detector|
The European Organisation for Nuclear Research (CERN) issued a press release yesterday saying that during their OPERA experiment, they had found an "anomaly in flight time of neutrinos from CERN to Gran Sasso".
OPERA was designed to observe a beam of neutrinos travelling from CERN's lab in Geneva to Italy's Gran Sasso laboratory, a distance of about 730 km. Neutrinos are elementary particles that come in three types of "flavours": electron neutrinos, muon neutrinos and tau neutrinos. OPERA aimed to test the phenomenon that, as the particles mover through space, they can change from one flavour to another. The results published now are an unexpected outcome of this work and if they can be confirmed, are startling. The neutrinos got to their destination 60 billionths of a second faster than they should have. Light would have travelled the same distance in 2.4 thousandths of a second. The conclusion: these neutrinos are faster then the speed of light.
CERN scientists were clear, that given the magnitude of the discovery, a very high level of proof is required. Modern physics is largely built on the understanding that the speed of light is the limit past which nothing can pass. Nothing can be faster than the speed of light, according to Einstein's theory of special relativity.
Given the potential far-reaching consequences of such a result, independent measurements are needed before the effect can either be refuted or firmly established. This is why the OPERA collaboration has decided to open the result to broader scrutiny.
“This result comes as a complete surprise,” said OPERA spokesperson, Antonio Ereditato of the University of Bern. “After many months of studies and cross checks we have not found any instrumental effect that could explain the result of the measurement. While OPERA researchers will continue their studies, we are also looking forward to independent measurements to fully assess the nature of this observation.”
“When an experiment finds an apparently unbelievable result and can find no artefact of the measurement to account for it, it’s normal procedure to invite broader scrutiny, and this is exactly what the OPERA collaboration is doing, it’s good scientific practice,” said CERN Research Director Sergio Bertolucci. “If this measurement is confirmed, it might change our view of physics, but we need to be sure that there are no other, more mundane, explanations. That will require independent measurements.”
CERN have made the results of the experiment freely available online for other scientists to examine.
CERN will hold a briefing today (Friday 23rd September, 2011) at 3pm (GMT) which will be streamed live at http://webcast.cern.ch/