UPDATE: While scientists patiently wait for the process of replicating the OPERA experiment – which seems to have the impossible result of finding a particle that moves faster than the speed of light – to commence, some have already fired up their very quotable imaginations.
Alvaro De Rujula, a theoretical physicist at CERN who thinks the seemingly impossible results are due to human error, is quoted by the Associated Press speculating that, if the results are actually true, pretty much anyone "could, in principle, travel to the past and kill their mother before they were born."
After the publication of the unconfirmed finding, the OPERA research team defended their decision to make the result public: "We have high confidence in our results. We have checked and rechecked for anything that could have distorted our measurements but we found nothing... We now want colleagues to check them independently." Antonio Ereditato, the researchers' spokesperson, told Reuters.
POST Friday 10:55 a.m.: A single finding from a European science experiment suggests the impossible: It seems that a subatomic particle known as a neutrino moved faster than the speed of light, a feat that shouldn't have been possible according to Einstein's special theory of relativity (e=MC2).
Never heard of a neutrino? Nature has a primer: “Neutrinos are fundamental particles that are electrically neutral, rarely interact with other matter, and have a vanishingly small mass. But they are all around us — the Sun produces so many neutrinos as a by-product of nuclear reactions that many billions pass through your eye every second.”
The European researchers, from CERN (European Organization for Nuclear Research), fired a neutrino beam from Geneva to a lab in Italy. It traveled 60 nanoseconds faster than the speed of light, a statistically significant difference. But don't throw out your physics textbooks just yet: The unconfirmed finding requires extensive further study.
As the Washington Post reports, only two other labs in the world can attempt to replicate the results: the Fermilab in Chicago and a lab in Japan, currently not in operation due to the tsunami this spring. The CERN experiment, called OPERA (Oscillation Project with Emulsion tRacking Apparatus), is only the latest in a series of experiments attempting to disprove Einstein, but it's the first that's come anywhere close to succeeding. One other 2007 experiment at Fermilab produced a similar result, but with a very low degree of certainty.
The track record of OPERA-like experiments has many scientists doubting that the result will hold up to further scrutiny. As Martin Robbins at the Guardian points out, one theoritical physicist has promised to eat his boxer shorts on live TV if the results turn out to be true.