Thursday, September 22, 2011

CERN claims particles travel faster than light

New experiments at the labs of CERN, who are famous for the Large Hadron Collider, showed that travelling faster than the speed of light might be possible after all. Scientists claim that they have measured certain particles with a higer speed than that of photons, the particles of light. Because their result is so surprising, the researchers are asking others to validate their results. If they hold to be true, it will radically change our view on the world. As far as we know, nothing can travel faster than light. We all know E=MC², though we might not all know what it means, but with these results, Einstein's famous equation may not be right after all. He assumed, like we all do now, that nothing can go faster than the speed of light.

At CERN, they accelerated particles down a tube with a length of 730 kilometres. Apparently, neutrinos, a type of particle, reached their destination 60 nanoseconds faster than light did. Although this may seem to be a meaningless difference, scientists calculated that the difference is in fact statistically significant. However, because of the impact of their results, CERN asked a lab in Chicago to validate their results. Obviously, if neutrinos are able to travel faster than light, they should also be able to somewhere else. In Chicago, there is a similar lab with a very long tube, in which scientists are also able to accelerate particles to incredibly high speeds. It is likely that many more months of hardcore science work are needed to indefinitely confirm that neutrinos are able to travel faster than the speed of light. 

The Large Hadron Collidor is the most famous project of CERN, but it is not connected with the recently published neutrino research. With the Large Hadron Collider, scientists of CERN hope to discover the elusive Higgs Boson particle, which is supposed to explain why particles have a mass. It is also linked as the particle that explains the mysterious force of gravity. Other forces, such as electromagnetism, have a particle associated with them: photons, which are the building blocks for light. Gravity, so far, does not have such a particle, but theory shows that there has to be one. Once we discover it, scientists claim the so called standard model of physics will be complete.

Discovering the Higgs Boson particle was thought to be the most promising research of CERN. The discovery of neutrinos being able to travel faster than light came quite at a surprise. It is however already known that neutrinos are able to travel at speeds close to that of light. This is probably due to the fact that these particles have almost no mass, and are electrically neutral. Neutrinos are able to pass through matter almost undetected, which is why it took a while before scientists discovered the existence of these particles.

Although most people probably haven't heard about neutrinos, they are all around us. It is estimated that every second, there are 65 billion neutrinos from the sun passing through each cm² that is exposed to the sun. That means, when you are outside, countless of neutrinos fly straight through you body without you knowing or feeling it. And at insanely high speeds.

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