A team of physicists working with a 1300-metric-ton particle detector called the OPERA (Oscillation Project with Emulsion-tRacking Apparatus) believe they have tracked neutrinos traveling roughly 60 nanoseconds faster than the speed of light.
OPERA detects neutrinos — subatomic particles without mass — fired through the Earth from CERN, Europe’s particle physics laboratory near Geneva, Switzerland. The massless particles hardly interact with other matter, and are able to move right through the Earth.
Some of the neutrinos hit the detector at OPERA, allowing researchers to time how fast they made the 730 km trip. Over three years, OPERA has timed around 16,000 neutrinos and found that on average they hit the detector in 2.43 milliseconds, clocking in at a faster-than-light speed.
After months of double-checking data, OPERA researchers still had no explanation for their findings and decided to share the results with the science community in the hopes that other scientists will review their findings as well.
Although the question of whether the neutrinos were really traveling faster than light or there was a “systems error” still remains. Most researchers agree that it’s too early to declare Einstein’s theory of relativity wrong.
If the results are verified, however, this finding would overturn Einstein’s theory and mark the biggest physics-related discovery in the past half century.