Scientists are skeptical, and still recovering from the shock of subatomic particles, neutrinos, moving in a vacuum apparently at speeds faster than the speed of light. The scientists in Gran Sasso, Italy have been running the experiment known as OPERA (Oscillation Project with Emulsion-tRacking Apparatus) for three years. The Gran Sasso team has access to the large accelerator at Cern, near Geneva, Switzerland, from which they shot the particles using a system of magnets over a distance of 450 miles to Gran Sasso. A beam of light traveling that distance would require about 2.4 milliseconds to span the space. Light travels fast enough to circle the earth six times in a single second. The neutrinos arrived 60 billionths of a second before they were expected. The speed of light in a vacuum is 299,792,458 meters per second but the particles were traveling at 299,798,454 meters per second.,
Einstein, the father of modern physics and of the theory of special relativity, states that nothing can travel faster than light in a vacuum. We now believe there are exceptions. In the center of our Sun, deep inside superheated and compressed atoms, subatomic particles throb back and forth from energy to matter, and in their matter phase are exceeding the limit of light speed. And at the hypothesized “Big Bang”, existence itself far surpassed the speed of light, expanding outward in all directions.
Stephen Parke head of theoretical physics at Fermilab has a lot to say about the unexpected new discovery. “If this is true”, Parke says, “It would rock the foundations of physics.The existence of faster-than-light particles would also wreak havoc on scientific theories of cause and effect. If things travel faster than the speed of light, A can cause B; but then, B can also cause A. … If that happens, the concept of causality becomes ambiguous, and that would cause a great deal of trouble.” Parke’s conclusion: “Your first response is it can’t possibly be true, that they must have made a mistake!”
Astrophysicist Dave Goldberg at Philadelphia’s Drexel University makes the point that “If faster-than-light neutrinos did exist, they would likely have been observed in nature before now. For example in 1987, detectors on Earth identified neutrinos and photons, light particles, from an exploding star. Both types of particles reached our planet at almost exactly the same instance.” Goldberg sums it up this way: “If neutrinos travel faster than light by the amount the OPERA team claims, then neutrinos from that supernova should have been detected in 1984; three years before the photons. It’s possible, but unlikely.”
Responding to suggestions of faulty measurement, OPERA Team co-coordinator Antonio Ereditato said, “We are competent experimentalists, we made a measurement and we believe our measurement is sound. Now it is up to the community to scrutinize it. We are not in a hurry. We are saying, tell us what we did wrong; redo the measurement if you can. There will be all sorts of science fiction writers who will give their own opinions on what this means, but we don’t want to enter that game.”
Here’s an interesting interpretation. Heinrich Paes at Dortmund University believes that it may be possible for the neutrinos to transport through hidden dimensions and shortcuts in space-time. “The extra dimension is warped in a way that particles moving through it can travel faster than particles that go through the known three dimensions of space. It’s like a shortcut through this extra dimension. So it looks like particles are going faster than light, but actually they don’t.”
From the University College in London, Professor Jenny Thomas remarked that if the OPERA discovery were correct, it would overturn everything we thought we understood about relativity and the speed of light”.