CERN: Light Speed May Have Been Exceeded By Subatomic Particle

Assalamu ‘Alaikum Warahmat Allah Wabarakatuh,

The below post is beyond the general remit of this blog, but I thought I should post it because of the significance this discovery – if the results are reconfirmed.

Jazak Allah


GENEVA — One of the very pillars of physics and Einstein’s theory of relativity – that nothing can go faster than the speed of light – was rocked Thursday by new findings from one of the world’s foremost laboratories.

European researchers said they clocked an oddball type of subatomic particle called a neutrino going faster than the 186,282 miles per second that has long been considered the cosmic speed limit.

The claim was met with skepticism, with one outside physicist calling it the equivalent of saying you have a flying carpet. In fact, the researchers themselves are not ready to proclaim a discovery and are asking other physicists to independently try to verify their findings.

“The feeling that most people have is this can’t be right, this can’t be real,” said James Gillies, a spokesman for the European Organization for Nuclear Research, or CERN, which provided the particle accelerator that sent neutrinos on their breakneck 454-mile trip underground from Geneva to Italy.

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. But no one is rushing out to rewrite the science books just yet.

It is “a revolutionary discovery if confirmed,” said Indiana University theoretical physicist Alan Kostelecky, who has worked on this concept for a quarter of a century.

Stephen Parke, who is head theoretician at the Fermilab near Chicago and was not part of the research, said: “It’s a shock. It’s going to cause us problems, no doubt about that – if it’s true.”

Even if these results are confirmed, they won’t change at all the way we live or the way the world works. After all, these particles have presumably been speed demons for billions of years. But the finding will fundamentally alter our understanding of how the universe operates, physicists said.

Einstein’s special relativity theory, which says that energy equals mass times the speed of light squared, 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.”

France’s National Institute for Nuclear and Particle Physics Research collaborated with Italy’s Gran Sasso National Laboratory on the experiment at CERN.

CERN reported that a neutrino beam fired from a particle accelerator near Geneva to a lab 454 miles (730 kilometers) away in Italy traveled 60 nanoseconds faster than the speed of light. Scientists calculated the margin of error at just 10 nanoseconds. (A nanosecond is one-billionth of a second.)

Given the enormous implications of the find, the researchers spent months checking and rechecking their results to make sure there were no flaws in the experiment.

A team at Fermilab had similar faster-than-light results in 2007, but a large margin of error undercut its scientific significance.

If anything is going to throw a cosmic twist into Einstein’s theories, it’s not surprising that it’s the strange particles known as neutrinos. These are odd slivers of an atom that have confounded physicists for about 80 years.

The neutrino has almost no mass, comes in three different “flavors,” may have its own antiparticle and has been seen shifting from one flavor to another while shooting out from our sun, said physicist Phillip Schewe, communications director at the Joint Quantum Institute in Maryland.

Columbia University physicist Brian Greene, author of the book “Fabric of the Cosmos,” said neutrinos theoretically can travel at different speeds depending on how much energy they have. And some mysterious particles whose existence is still only theorized could be similarly speedy, he said.

Fermilab team spokeswoman Jenny Thomas, a physics professor at the University College of London, said there must be a “more mundane explanation” for the European findings. She said Fermilab’s experience showed how hard it is to measure accurately the distance, time and angles required for such a claim.

Nevertheless, Fermilab, which shoots neutrinos from Chicago to Minnesota, has already begun working to try to verify or knock down the new findings.

And that’s exactly what the team in Geneva wants.

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, and ideally for someone elsewhere in the world to repeat the measurements.”

Only two labs elsewhere in the world can try to replicate the work: Fermilab and a Japanese installation that has been slowed by the tsunami and earthquake. And Fermilab’s measuring systems aren’t nearly as precise as the Europeans’ and won’t be upgraded for a while, said Fermilab scientist Rob Plunkett.

Drew Baden, chairman of the physics department at the University of Maryland, said it is far more likely that the CERN findings are the result of measurement errors or some kind of fluke. Tracking neutrinos is very difficult, he said.

“This is ridiculous what they’re putting out,” Baden said. “Until this is verified by another group, it’s flying carpets. It’s cool, but …”

So if the neutrinos are pulling this fast one on Einstein, how can it happen?

Parke said there could be a cosmic shortcut through another dimension – physics theory is full of unseen dimensions – that allows the neutrinos to beat the speed of light.

Indiana’s Kostelecky theorizes that there are situations when the background is different in the universe, not perfectly symmetrical as Einstein says. Those changes in background may alter both the speed of light and the speed of neutrinos.

But that doesn’t mean Einstein’s theory is ready for the trash heap, he said.

“I don’t think you’re going to ever kill Einstein’s theory. You can’t. It works,” Kostelecky said. There are just times when an additional explanation is needed, he said.

If the European findings are correct, “this would change the idea of how the universe is put together,” Columbia’s Greene said. But he added: “I would bet just about everything I hold dear that this won’t hold up to scrutiny.”

Source: Huffington Post



14 thoughts on “CERN: Light Speed May Have Been Exceeded By Subatomic Particle

  1. AA

    Slightly off topic, if anyone is interested in metaphysics, you may want to read John Ellis McTaggart’s “The unreality of time”
    He argued that time is merely an ideal and that our perception of time is an incoherent illusion.

    If you like to read more about metaphysics, may I suggest reading Metaphysics: The Big Questions (Philosophy: The Big Questions) Peter van Inwagen, Dean W. Zimmerman
    It’s an intense read as it is normally used as a reference book for degree level philosophy. However, it does bring to light thought provoking ideas.

    Hadrat Mirza Tahir Ahmad (ra) the fourth Khalifa discussed Greek Philosophy in his book, Revelation, Rationality, Knowledge and Truth

    Just some food for thought, as many Philosophers influenced science and religion.

  2. I think time travel seems very unlikely.

    But if we could harness neutrinos as a fuel source for spaceships, we could travel lightyears and explore the realm of outer space. That in itself is an exciting prospect, but even more so because the Qur’an predicts it in one of my favourite and most poetic chapter of the Qur’an, Surah al-Rahman:

    “O company of Jinn and men (Ya ma’shar al-Jinni wa ‘l-Insi)! if you have power to go beyond the confines of the heavens and the earth, then do go. But you cannot go save with authority (Sultan).” (Surah al-Rahman, 55:34)

    It means that humans may be able to go beyond the confines of earth and penetrate the regions of deep space with Allah’s Sultan (authority/will). Jinn in this situation means the big governments of the world that operate behind closed doors (ie. USA and USSR during the “Space Race”) and Ins (mankind) refers to normal common folk, as explained by Khalifa-tul-Masih IV (rahmatAllahi ‘alayh).

    What’s more exciting is that the Qur’an categorically states that there are other planets like our earth that can harbour life (which must have water as the Qur’an and science both say that life can only exist with water, and also be in the “sweet spot” in terms of distance away from the star they orbit so as to have enough oxygen, and have at least 50% atmospheric cover).

    It is stated in Surah al-Fatihah, al-Umm al-Qur’an (The Mother of the Qur’an) itself:

    “Praise be to Allah, Lord of the Universe (All the Worlds)” (1:2)

    ‘Alameen being the plural of ‘Alam, ‘alam can mean “world” but it can also mean “realm”.


    ‘Alam al-Ins = Mankind
    ‘Alam al-Maa’ = Water Cycle
    ‘Alam al-Bahariyyah = The Oceans
    ‘Alam al-Haywan = Animal Kingdom

    And also, ‘Alam al-‘Alam = Realm of the Worlds

    Therefore it means that there are other worlds in this universe similar to earth which harbour intelligent life.

    This is also proven elsewhere in the Qur’an where it says:

    “Allah is He Who created seven heavens, and of the earth the like thereof…” (65:13)

    The number seven in Arabic can also mean “many”. This is saying that there are other planets like ours. The “seven heavens” may refer to the seven levels of the atmosphere on earth, or many galaxies (“heavens”) some of which contain an “earth” like ours.

    “And among His Signs is the creation of the heavens and the earth, and of whatever living creatures He has spread forth in both… And He has the power to gather them together when He will so please.” (42:30)

    The above verse is a clear indication that intelligent life exists in outer space on other planets and that one day we shall meet them In Shaa’ Allah. However it is not specified if we will meet them on Earth, on Mars, in Outer Space, or somewhere else.

    “All that is in the heavens and the earth glorifies Him, and He is the Mighty, the Wise.” (The Holy Quran, al-Hashr 59:25)

    Regarding the above verse, the Promised Messiah (‘alayhi al-salam) writes in his groundbreaking magnum opus, “The Philosophy of the Teachings of Islam” that:

    “The dwellers of the heaven and the dwellers of the earth glorify Him. This is an indication that the heavenly bodies are also populated and their dwellers follow Divine guidance.”

    So this discovery is very exciting indeed. I am almost certain it is fulfilling some prophecy of the Qur’an, perhaps the verse about Angels proceeding to Allah in a Day, which is 50,000 years (meaning there is a force that goes faster than the speed of light).

    Allahu A’lam, He will reveal to us where in the Qur’an it is prophecized about this discovery.

    I now leave you with a video by a man explaining the Big Bang Theory and expansion of the Universe which is eerily the exact same thing listed in the Qur’an:


    In Qur’an:

  3. Time backward in time probably is unlikely due to the grandfather paradox. However, Star Trek like warp engines are probably a distant reality.

    Anyhow I would also like to watch Hadhrat Talha(ra) catching the arrows! But alas we would have to wait till day of judgement when the full HD reply is shown.

  4. @BlogMan

    Unlikely though but id love it if it was possible – time travel would have become means of tourism in the coming generations… But as is always the case, science always proves to be something different to what our forefathers thought.

  5. Hmmm, that’s interesting. I would travel back to see Maradon’s amazing goal in Mexico ”86.” That’s a bit superficial, isn’t it? Perhaps seeing the parting of the sea as Moses (as) crossed it would be much better, or the arrows of Badr being caught by Hadrat Talha (ra). I would forget my current vocation and become a history teacher – imagine being able to hold each class during the even it was describing.

  6. ha ha, time travel? At least that’s what some enthusiast are looking up to with this finding. I doubt it’ll be possible, but it may give us a chance to explore planets and stars via un-manned or manned probes that are millions of light years away.

  7. The OPERA collaboration scientists were very meticulous with their work. If their finding holds then a lot of new physics would need to be written. However, let us wait for replication, and it may take months or years to confirm these results.

    The following is a good overview of the impressive detail the scientist went to make sure there was no systematic or random error.

  8. Very interesting. Can someone summarise what Professor Adbus Salam Sb worked on that won him the Noble prize?

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