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A total of 15,000 beams of neutrinos - tiny particles that pervade the cosmos - were fired over a period of three years from CERN towards Gran Sasso 730 (500 miles) km away, where they were picked up by giant detectors.Light would have covered the distance in around 2.4 thousandths of a second, but the neutrinos took 60 nanoseconds - or 60 billionths of a second - less than light beams would have taken.But they have asked American and Japanese teams to confirm the results before they are declared an actual discovery.The data will also be put online overnight so that it can be scrutinised by experts across the world.
The totally unexpected finding emerged from research by a physicists working on an experiment dubbed OPERA run jointly by the CERN particle research centre near Geneva and the Gran Sasso Laboratory in central Italy.
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"It is a tiny difference," said Ereditato, who also works at Berne University in Switzerland, "but conceptually it is incredibly important.
The finding is so startling that, for the moment, everybody should be very prudent." Ereditato declined to speculate on what it might mean if other physicists, who will be officially informed of the discovery at a meeting in CERN on Friday, found that OPERA's measurements were correct.The theory of special relativity was used to spawn the theory that energy is equal to mass multiplied by the speed of light squared.