Last month, an international team of scientists published results, which seemingly indicated they had observed sub-atomic particles (named neutrinos) breaking the speed of light. Since then we haven’t heard much from the media, so what’s going on? 

The scientists running the OPERA (Oscillation Project with Emulsion-tRacking Apparatus) experiment published these results for a reason, they can’t find their error, they simply don’t know where they went wrong, which begs the question, did they?

Antonio Ereditato, spokesman for the researchers said “We have high confidence in our results. We have checked and rechecked for anything that could have distorted our measurements but we found nothing”. 

They’ve handed their data over to the world, in the hope that someone somewhere will be able to locate the erroneous piece of the puzzle. Of course, if in a few years the scientific community comes to the conclusion that these particles have in fact defied Einstein’s laws of physics, what will the repercussions be?

Theoretically it’d be possible to receive a message before it had been sent and time travel to the past would now be possible. Ideas like these are the reason scientists would love the results to be validated. These ideas have also given rise to a flurry of awful jokes, my favourite being: ‘A barman says “we don’t serve neutrinos”. A neutrino walks into a bar.’

There are ways neutrinos can break the universal speed limit set by Einstein, without invalidating his special theory of relativity. An idea that the neutrinos are traversing through extra dimensions of reality, would give the appearance of faster than light travel from our perspective. The domino effect to this theory being true would be the confirmation of these theorised extra dimensions’ existence. 

Another possible explanation is the mysterious dark matter/energy, which makes up 96% of the universe (that’s right, we can only account for 4% of the universe). Photons of light might interact with this substance in a different way to neutrinos, allowing the speed of light on Earth to be lower than its theoretical speed. This gives the neutrinos the excuse that they were only going faster than the highest speed of light discovered so far. 

If OPERA’s results hold up, it will undoubtedly be the biggest scientific event in the last hundred years. Textbooks will have to be re-written and the world’s physicists will have to go back to drawing board. The full consequences of this bizarre result won’t be known for at least two years, nevertheless you can be sure this isn’t the last time you’ll hear about this story.


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