Scientists on Thursday announced that they had recorded sub-atomic particles traveling faster than the speed of light. According to Reuters, the finding "could overturn one of Einstein's long-accepted fundamental laws of the universe."
In a joint experiment between the European Organization for Nuclear Research, known as CERN, and the Gran Sasso Laboratory in central Italy, 15,000 beams of tiny particles called neutrinos were fired from CERN, near Geneva, toward giant detectors at Gran Sasso. Light would take 2.4 thousandths of a second to cover that distance. The neutrinos beat that time by 60 nanoseconds.
"It is a tiny difference," Antonio Ereditato, spokesman for the researchers, told Reuters, "but conceptually it is incredibly important. The finding is so startling that, for the moment, everybody should be very prudent."
If confirmed, the discovery would undermine Albert Einstein's 1905 theory of special relativity, which holds that nothing can travel faster than light, a bedrock of the so-called Standard Model of physics.
James Gillies, a spokesman for CERN, told the Associated Press that the "feeling that most people have is this can't be right, this can't be real."
The researchers are now asking other scientists to test their findings.
"They are inviting the broader physics community to look at what they've done and really scrutinize it in great detail, and ideally for someone elsewhere in the world to repeat the measurements," Gillies said.
Scientists at the Fermilab in Chicago have announced that they will start work immediately.
"It's a shock," Fermilab head theoretician Stephen Parke said. "It's going to cause us problems, no doubt about that — if it's true."
The AP said that some scientists expressed skepticism about the findings. University of Maryland physics department chairman Drew Baden called the findings "a flying carpet."
John Ellis, a theoretical physicist at CERN not involved in the experiment, told the AP that Einstein's special relativity theory "has worked perfectly up until now."
"This would be such a sensational discovery if it were true that one has to treat it extremely carefully," Ellis said.