If a finding released Thursday by scientists in Geneva proves to be true, the world’s most famous equation – Albert Einstein‘s E=MC2 – could be moot, undoing our current understanding of the physical world.
Einstein revealed that equation in his special theory of relativity released in 1905. It asserted that energy equals mass times the speed of light squared, and helped shape our understanding of the physical world.
The scientists in Geneva fired a beam of neutrinos – elementary particles which don’t hold an electrical charge and pass through ordinary matter with virtually no interaction – from CERN‘S particle accelerator to a lab in Italy about 730 kilometers away.
The speed of light is 299,792.458 kilometers per second. The Geneva scientists found their sub-atomic particles traveled to Italy 60 nanoseconds faster than the speed of light – or 300,006 kilometers per second.
That appears to break the limit set by Einstein.
In fact, CERN’s announcement was greeted with more skepticism than usual by the physics community, with many calling for independent verification of the findings.
However, the CERN scientists, many of whom remain skeptical themselves, expected the uproar. They carefully examined their results and recalculated their findings for nearly six months before publicly announcing them. They’re even asking colleagues everywhere to double check the findings and calculations.
The inevitable verification process will take place in two steps. The first would be to evaluate the results and supporting data, which are available on Cornell University’s physics website. The second step, which could take place in a couple of months, will require the duplication of the CERN neutrino experiment in another laboratory.
In the meantime, you can bet physicists everywhere will scour CERN’s data for even the tiniest glitch, miscalculation or other anomaly which will debunk the findings and restore Einstein’s calculations that nothing is faster than the speed of light.