Back in September of 2011, researchers working on the Oscillation Project with Emulsion-tRacking Apparatus (OPERA) experiment made a striking announcement to the world; they were able to prove that there is a subatomic particle (neutrinos: similar to the electron, but with one pivotal difference; neutrinos do not carry an electric charge) that could indeed travel at a faster speed than that of light. These initial findings caused quite a commotion within the scientific community as it would undermine one of the most fundamental laws of modern physics, Albert Einstein’s theory of special relativity which stated that nothing in the universe can travel faster than the speed of light in a vacuum. Many scientists disputed this initial claim, saying that is premature to comment on a test of this magnitude and that further experiments and clarifications would be needed in order to rule out the possibility of errors.
Fast forward to last week when a second test was ran to once again prove that the speed of light had been exceeded. Pulses of neutrino particles where fired from the European Organization for Nuclear Research, better known as CERN, to the Gran Sasso National Laboratory in Italy. The particles traveled a distance of 730km and arrived at the Gran Sasso National Laboratory 60 nanoseconds before light would have done. In order to eliminate one of the possible source of error that could have thrown off the results of the first test (possibility that the researchers were getting confused over the start and end of each pulse), this time the length of the pulses were shortened down from 10.5 millionth of a second to 3 billionth of a second.
Before you jump up from your chair and run to tear up those physics textbooks, some physicists are not yet convinced and say that even more tests will be needed before Einstein’s theory is thrown out the window. While only one of the potential errors was ruled out, there are still a number of other possible miscalculations and uncertainties that have to be taken into account. That is why physicists in other facilities, like those at the Minos (Main Injector Neutrino Oscillation Search) group at Fermilab in Batavia, Illinois, are now preparing to run their own set of tests to see if they can achieve the same results as CERN.
However, if it is confirmed that the speed of light has been broken, the implications will be expansive and new horizons will open up.