Einstein’s special theory of relativity rests on two postulates: a) there is a maximum speed at which particles can travel through space and b) this maximum speed is the speed of light. The special theory of relativity becomes important when speed of particles approaches the speed of light. For lower speeds, it gives the same results as the Newtonian mechanics. The general theory of relativity was developed subsequently, to describe the gravity based on relativistic principles. These theories have been verified in a large number of experiments, setting foundations of modern physics.
However, a recent report questions the validity of one of the two postulates of the special theory of relativity. In an experiment called OPERA, elementary particles called neutrinos were produced at CERN and directed towards detectors in an underground Gran Sasso laboratory, 730 km away inItaly. Neutrinos are particles that do not interact with matter almost at all and they were passing almost unobstructed through the rock/soil formations on their way to the detectors. Measuring the time it took to the neutrinos to travel the distance of 730 km, the physicists came to a surprising result: the neutrinos had to travel with the speed 0.0025 % faster than the speed of light. Careful rechecking of the experiments confirmed that the accuracy of their results is better that the obtained difference between the speed of light and the measured speed of neutrinos. While the difference of 0.0025% may be minute, this result is challenging one of the basic pillars of modern physics. This finding is being tested by other groups. If proven correct, it will require modifying the basic theories of physics. Continue reading ‘Was Einstein wrong? The CERN experiment that could change modern physics’