Scientists around the world were floored by yesterday's announcement that CERN researchers had broken the speed of light, which is the fastest known speed. They presented their work today for further scientific scrutiny.
If proven true by other research groups, it will debunk Einstein's special theory of relativity, which holds that nothing can travel faster than the speed of light in a vacuum.
If that is the case, scientists say they will need to rethink the way the universe works, because then "it's not just space that's affected, it's time that's affected too." Watch the BBC's report:
How did this happen? The team -- a collaboration between France's National Institute for Nuclear and Particle Physics Research and Italy's Gran Sasso National Laboratory -- fired a neutrino beam, which is composed of subatomic particles known to travel close to the speed of light, 454 miles underground from Geneva to Italy. What they saw surprised them and made them nervous. It traveled a sixty billionth of a second faster than the speed of light.
The BBC reported the researchers repeated their experiment 16,000 times with enough similar results to achieve statistical significance. Study author Antonio Ereditato of the Oscillation Project with Emulsion-tRacking Apparatus, or OPERA, collaboration at CERN collaboration said they tried to find mistakes in their work, but couldn't:
"We wanted to find a mistake - trivial mistakes, more complicated mistakes, or nasty effects - and we didn't.
"When you don't find anything, then you say 'well, now I'm forced to go out and ask the community to scrutinise this'."
Watch Ereditato explain the findings:
[youtube http://www.youtube.com/v/alOL4xxF7Ps?version=3&hl=en_US expand=1]
As Ereditato says, this news is not to be taken lightly. Physicists remain skeptical until other replication of the experiment attains similar results.
Alvaro De Rujula, a theoretical physicist at CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research outside Geneva from where the neutron beam was fired, said he blamed the readings on a so-far undetected human error.
If not, and it's a big if, the door would be opened to some wild possibilities.
The average person, said De Rujula, "could, in principle, travel to the past and kill their mother before they were born."
Research groups in Japan and the United States will most likely retest the experiment.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.