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Roll over Einstein: Pillar of physics challenged
GENEVA (AP) - A startling find at one of the world’s foremost laboratories that a subatomic particle seemed to move faster than the speed of light has scientists around the world rethinking Albert Einstein and one of the foundations of physics.
Now they are planning to put the finding to further high-speed tests to see if a revolutionary shift in explaining the workings of the universe is needed _ or if the European scientists made a mistake.
Researchers at CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research outside Geneva, who announced the discovery Thursday are still somewhat surprised themselves and planned to detail their findings on Friday.
If these results are confirmed, they won’t change at all the way we live or the way the universe behaves. After all, these particles have presumably been speed demons for billions of years. But the finding will fundamentally change our understanding of how the world works, physicists said.
Only two labs elsewhere in the world can try to replicate the results. One is Fermilab outside Chicago and the other is a Japanese lab put on hold by the March tsunami and earthquake. Fermilab officials met Thursday about verifying the European study and said their particle beam is already up and running. The only trouble is that their measuring systems aren’t nearly as precise as the Europeans’ and won’t be upgraded for a while, said Fermilab scientist Rob Plunkett.
“This thing is so important many of the normal scientific rivalries fall by the wayside,” said Plunkett, a spokesman for the Fermilab team’s experiments. “Everybody is going to be looking at every piece of information.”
Plunkett said he is keeping an open mind on whether Einstein’s theories need an update, but he added: “It’s dangerous to lay odds against Einstein. Einstein has been tested repeatedly over and over again.”
Going faster than light is something that is just not supposed to happen according to Einstein’s 1905 special theory of relativity _ the one made famous by the equation E equals mc2. The speed of light _ 186,282 miles per second (299,792 kilometers per second) _ has long been considered a cosmic speed limit.
The claim is being greeted with skepticism inside and outside the European lab.
“The feeling that most people have is this can’t be right, this can’t be real,” said James Gillies, a spokesman for CERN.
CERN provided the particle accelerator to send neutrinos on a breakneck 454-mile (730-kilometer) trip underground from Geneva to Italy. France's National Institute for Nuclear and Particle Physics Research collaborated with Italy’s Ran Sass National Laboratory for the experiment, which has no connection to the atomic-smashing Large Hadron Collider, which is also located at CERN.
Gillies told The Associated Press that the readings have so astounded researchers that “they are inviting the broader physics community to look at what they’ve done and really scrutinize it in great detail.”
That will be necessary, because Einstein’s special relativity theory underlies “pretty much everything in modern physics,” said John Ellis, a theoretical physicist at CERN who was not involved in the experiment. “It has worked perfectly up until now.” And part of that theory is that nothing is faster than the speed of light.
CERN reported that a neutrino beam fired from a particle accelerator near Geneva to a lab in Italy traveled 60 nanoseconds faster than the speed of light. Scientists calculated the margin of error at just 10 nanoseconds, making the difference statistically significant.
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