New Test Shows Subatomic Particles Do Not Travel Faster Than Light

Posted March 16th, 2012 at 1:55 pm (UTC-5)
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Researchers in Europe say that their measurement test shows that subatomic particles known as neutrinos do not travel faster than light as claimed by another team last year.

The latest test at the European Center for Nuclear Research counters results from a similar test performed last year, which showed evidence neutrinos might exceed light speed. That finding was contrary to the most fundamental law of physics, which says nothing travels faster than the speed of light.

Nobel Prize winning physicist Carlo Rubbia said Friday that his team, called ICARUS, performed the same experiment done earlier by the rival OPERA group that trapped neutrinos fired from the CERN atomic collider in Switzerland to a detector in Italy. He said the findings of his team suggest that the results of the OPERA experiment were not correct.

Scientists with the OPERA experiment said in September that their tests appeared to show neutrinos speeding faster than light by 60 nanoseconds – or 60 billionths of a second. A re-run of the experiment on the same equipment in November also produced the same result.

Doubts about the OPERA results increased last month when some researchers found a flaw in the test that could have distorted the experiment's figures.

CERN said in February that it had identified possible equipment issues that may have influenced test results.

CERN officials in Geneva, Switzerland say the experiments measuring the velocity of neutrinos will be repeated in May.

Many scientists expressed strong doubt about the faster-than-light results because even the tiniest miscalculation or error would void the findings. Other skeptics noted the many well-tested scientific theories, including Einstein's 1905 theory of relativity, that maintains no object with mass can ever reach the speed of light, which is 299,792 kilometers per second.

While none of the neutrino speed test results was ever independently confirmed, or ever officially submitted for peer review scrutiny, the Europe-based scientists who conducted the experiments have always acknowledged the need for further testing at different facilities.

The experiments, which were conducted over a period of three years, originally were not intended to test the speed of light. The physicists wanted to study how neutrinos change from one type to another as they raced through CERN's powerful atom-smashing particle accelerator – the Large Hadron Collider.

According to the late Albert Einstein's theory of special relativity, it is impossible for anything with mass to exceed the speed of light in a vacuum – such as the environment in outer space – because a moving object becomes heavier the faster it goes. This means that more and more energy is needed to keep increasing the speed of the heavier and heavier object as it keeps gaining mass. Eventually, both the mass of the object, and the energy needed to keep moving it faster will reach infinity, and since nothing can go beyond the infinite, the object will never break the light-speed.

Einstein's theories of special relativity and general relativity have never been disproved since the famed physicist first calculated them in the early 20th century.