CERN announced today that they had published results indicating that they have discovered that neutrinos may travel at speeds a tiny fraction faster than the speed of light – breaking what you could call the Universe’s speed limit. At least according to Einstein‘s theories.
This has caused a certain amount of fuss amongst the media, and probably a lot of discussion around every water cooler where physicists gather. Of course the media has grandly announced that Einstein was wrong. Well, not really (and I should add that I’m no physicist).
Firstly, this is more a “Hey! That’s weird” moment – nobody except the media is saying we should tear up Einstein’s theories as yet. CERN themselves have said what amounts to “Hey guys! Can you check this out, because it’s weird”. They want other scientists to check their results because it is so unexpected.
Secondly even if this pans out, and CERN have found that something travels faster than light it doesn’t mean that Einstein was completely wrong. He came up with a theory that explained the Universe as understood for pretty much a hundred years. Just like the Newtonian universe that went before, the Einsteinian universe was correct (and may still be so) for the Universe as understood by scientists until this discovery.
Bear in mind that the Newtonian universe is taught in schools today – not as a historical curiosity, but as a simplistic if somewhat flawed model of how the Universe works, suitable for children learning about the Universe.