x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Faster than light?

Big news for science can be a big burden for scientists championing the results. That's why it's important to get your maths right.

What does a scientist working in Geneva do when confronted with the possibility that he might overturn a pillar of modern physics, disproving a key point of Albert Einstein's theories in the process? He hopes that he is wrong.

Researchers at the Cern collider are shocked by indications that subatomic particles can travel faster than the speed of light. The finding could reshape modern physics - and throw into question Einstein's special theory of relativity.

But big news for science can be a big burden for scientists championing the results. No one wants to err when redefining the universe.

"We wanted to find a mistake - trivial mistakes, more complicated mistakes or nasty effects - and we didn't," Antonio Ereditato, a researcher with the Opera collaboration to study neutrino oscillations, told the BBC. "Now I'm forced to go out and ask the community to scrutinise."

Dr Ereditato hopes he's proven crazy before he's proven right. But in the end, it might be easier to disprove his maths skills.

Given that light travels at 299,792,458 metres per second, and the particles in question showed up just 60 billionths of a second earlier than expected, the calculations alone are enough to drive someone crazy. Einstein can rest easy for a few more seconds at least.