Science & Technology, Student Life

Einstein’s theory under fire


One of the brightest scientists of all time may have made some mistakes. Recent research conducted at CERN suggests that it could be possible for particles to travel faster than the speed of light, something Albert Einstein’s Theory of Relativity specifically prohibits. This finding, if correct, pokes a hole in one of the most basic theories describing the behaviour of the universe.

Einstein’s theory is simple: it describes the laws of physics under motion, and for the past 100 years no one has been able to disprove it. The theory of relativity states that the laws of physics are identical for any bodies in uniform motion with respect to one another, and that the speed of light in a vacuum is the same for any observer, regardless of that observer’s motion. One important implication of these laws is that the speed of light, about 186,282 miles per second in a vacuum, is the fastest speed at which energy, matter, or information can travel in the universe.

An experiment recently conducted at CERN appears to contradict Einstein’s theory. Scientists measured neutrinos travelling faster than the speed of light. The experiment involved firing neutrinos, one of the elementary subatomic particles, hundreds of miles, and measuring the time taken for the neutrinos to travel the distance. The neutrinos covered the distance several nanoseconds faster than light would have. After checking and double-checking their results, the team failed to find any mistake in their calculations.

This isn’t the first time scientists have claimed to unravel Einstein’s theory, but it might be the first time the results hold, as scientists around the globe attempt to verify CERN’s results. The CERN experiment is more complicated than prior experiments and directly contradicts the results of these earlier experiments, so it is quite likely that the results are invalid in some way, despite the extensive attempts of the researchers to account for any possible error. Where the mistake lies—if there is one—remains to be seen.

If the CERN results hold true, and Einstien’s theory is proven incorrect or incomplete, it could alter the foundations of the physics world, as well as change the way we understand other sciences. For example, special relativity is one of the things which proves time travel to be impossible. The result would give some heft to the theoretical subatomic particle referred to as the tachyon. Another implication is that matter exists which cannot be seen as it approaches an observer.If the particle is moving faster than the speed of light, the light from the particle will reach the observer after the particle itself has reached the observer, resulting in unobservable motion.

The true effects of this experimental result are difficult to predict.One thing is certain: if it stands the test of experimental duplication, it will be the most significant discovery in the field of physics in the past century. However, there is reason to be skeptical. Whether the scientists at CERN have uncovered something deep, or simply botched an experiment remains to be seen. 

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