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28th November 2011

Experiment which broke speed of light being rerun

Neutrino’s broke the speed limit, so physicists will try the test again
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An experiment which discovered particles travelling faster than the speed of light is being rerun. Results, released in September, suggested sub-atomic particles known as neutrinos travelled from CERN in Switzerland to Gran Sasso Laboratories in Italy in 0.0024 seconds.  This was 60 billionths of a second earlier than expected which meant the neutrinos would have had to have travelled faster than the speed of light.

With over 80 scientific papers released since them, with many claiming solutions and explanations to the astounding results, the research team at CERN have made the decision to rerun the experiment in a different way.

Neutrinos themselves cannot be sent in beams to Italy. Instead, protons were accelerated in a beam at CERN then neutrinos were created from this beam and sent to Italy. This means the speed of the neutrinos cannot be directly measured. Instead, the speed is calculated from the time the protons were sent from Switzerland and the time the neutrinos arrived in Italy.

Using the previous method, scientists sent a relatively long (10 millionths of a second) pulse of protons. The new method involves several pulses which are thousands of times shorter, sent with a gap between each one- around 500 times longer than each pulse. This new method should make calculating the speed of the neutrinos more accurate.

Breaking the speed of light would have ground breaking implications for science. It would mean Einstein was wrong in his special theory of relativity. It is seen as the highest speed limit in the Universe. Travelling faster than the speed of light could make time travel possible.

Before anyone starts planning how they will use time travel to their advantage (going back in time to revise that topic which you didn’t think would come up but did isn’t classed as cheating under current guidelines), the new experiment won’t end until November so we’ll have to wait at least until then to see if Einstein got it right or wrong.

Leah Wong

Leah Wong

Former Sci and Tech editor (2011-2012).

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