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Neutrino particle traveling faster than light? Two ways it could rewrite physics.

European scientists are shocked by an experiment that showed neutrino particles moving faster than light. The result, if confirmed, could challenge Einstein's signature theory on relativity or point to a universe of more than four dimensions.

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Rumors of the results have been circulating in the physics community for several weeks, Parke notes. But word leaked more broadly. A draft research paper describing the experiment, results, and efforts to rule out glitches is expected to be posted on the Internet Thursday night. In addition, OPERA scientists are holding a talk at CERN Friday to shed more light on what the team found and the process it underwent to eliminate sources of error in its results.

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"We tried to find all possible explanations for this," said Antonio Ereditato, a member of the OPERA collaboration in an interview with the BBC. After hunting for all the mistakes, large and small, the team could think of, it didn't find any.

"Then you say, 'Well, now I'm forced to go out and ask the community to scrutinize this,' " he said.

Ironically, similar hints that neutrinos might be thumbing their noses at Albert Einstein appeared four years ago at Fermilab. Its MINOS experiment is similar to OPERA. MINOS generates neutrino beams at Batavia and sends them through the Earth to detectors in a mine in northern Minnesota some 450 miles away.

In 2007, Fermilab scientists reported detecting neutrinos arriving slightly sooner than they would if traveling at the speed of light. But the difference was so small that it was not statistically significant. The team posted its results, but didn't sound a fanfare.

Parke says the team is upgrading its equipment to improve the precision of its measurements. If all goes well, Fermilab could provide a reality check on the OPERA results in about three years.

Confirmation – or a "maybe not" – could come sooner from Japan, which has a similar, though shorter, long-baseline neutrino experiment. Even though the facility was affected by this year's tsunami-generating earthquake, researchers suggest that the lab's archives may hold the data needed to compare with OPERA's.

If that's the case, a second opinion on particles that appear to outrace light might be only months away.

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