Albert Einstein told us that the speed of light is unbreachable*, that nothing can travel faster than light. Think of the speed of light at 299,792,458 meters a second as the ultimate cosmic lock which has no key.
Well, it appears that electrically neutral subatomic particles known as neutrinos do indeed travel faster than light at 299,798,454 meters a second. Scientists at the Gran Sasso, one of the world’s largest physics laboratories, have announced that neutrinos travel 5996 meters a second faster. That is 19,671.916 feet or 3.72574166 miles. That figure may not seem like a lot in and of itself but when you consider the absurdly long distances in the universe this would make an absurdly big difference.
The scientists conducted the experiment to measure the speed of neutrinos by sending them from the European particle physics lab called CERN to the Gran Sasso on a 730 milometer underground journey repeatedly for three years. Some 15,000 neutrinos were used in the experiment but it is not known how many were harmed. (I had to slip that silly little crack in).
This finding is so enormously big that scientists around the world are probably looking askance at its implications, which are that everything that we know to be reality as determined by the Einsteinian physics could stand fundamentally disrupted.
Let me just cite one major mindfuck implication of this. The Guardian’s Ian Sample quotes Subir Sarkar, head of particle theory at Oxford University, as saying: "If this is proved to be true it would be a massive, massive event. It is something nobody was expecting.
"The constancy of the speed of light essentially underpins our understanding of space and time and causality, which is the fact that cause comes before effect.
"Cause cannot come after effect and that is absolutely fundamental to our construction of the physical universe. If we do not have causality, we are buggered."
Well said Professor Sarkar, we indeed are buggered if that is the case. Think of it this way. I exist without my parents doing anything to make it happen.
The notion that neutrinos travel faster than light has been talked about for a while but this is perhaps the first time that such intense empirical scrutiny has produced results to support that hypothesis.
People are already asking the predictable question whether Einstein was wrong, which is really missing the larger point that just as we think we have grasped the universe, it throws a wrench at us.
Neutrinos, incidentally, being electrically neutral can pass through just about any matter. Billions pass through us everyday after they come out of the sun. According to one calculation 65 billion of them pass every second through every square centimeter perpendicular to the sun. So if you stood perpendicular to the sunlight this morning, you are a neutrino billionaire several times over.
Let us make neutrino the global currency replacing the dollar because it is neutral and not a creation of any one nation. Every time someone asks you to pay all that you have to do is point to the sun. Only on this blog would you have a finding so fraught with such profound implications trivialized so quickly.
* Unbreachable is not a word but when we are talking about something as fantastic as a breach in the speed of light , what is a non-existent word?