The Wall Street Journal reported last Friday that a group of scientists have clocked a group of particles that traveled faster than the speed of light, throwing into doubt over fifty years of scientific theory that had long been held unquestionably as fact. The particles, neutrinos, are subatomic, and can pass through most matter without harm. Billions of neutrinos from the Sun pass through humans every day with apparently no effect whatsoever.

Einstein’s Special Theory of Relativity holds that nothing can ever travel faster than the speed of light. Einstein theorized that an object approaching the speed of light would also experience a change in time perception. For example, astronauts traveling in a space shuttle experience time at a rate measurably slower, although barely so.  In theory, a person traveling at extremely high speeds could return to its point of origin and find that years had passed at home while only months had passed for that person. It was also thought that once an object actually reaches the speed of light, time for it would basically stop. However, the possibility that a particle could travel faster than the speed of light throws all of this into question.

Scientists have theorized in the past about faster than light particles, which they dubbed tachyons, which could potentially arrive at their destination before they left their point of origin. Tachyons were more used to debate what might happen if such a particle were to exist than as an actually working theory. Also, the problems that they cause depended on the speed of light being directly related to an objects perception of time. The neutrino experiment contradicts this theory, since the neutrino particles reached their destination after they left their source.

Since the results of this experiment could overthrow much of what scientists long assumed was basic physics, many scientific authorities are leery of accepting the results without more substantial proof.