Commentary submitted by Dr. Brian L. Mac Coy
August 28, 2007
Two German physicists claim to have done the impossible and broken the speed of light.
If their claims are confirmed, they will have proved wrong Albert Einstein’s special theory of relativity, which requires an infinite amount of energy to propel an object at more than 299,792,458 meters per second.
However Dr Gunter Nimtz and Dr Alfons Stahlhofen, from the University of Koblenz, say they have possibly breached a key tenet of that theory.
They say they have conducted an experiment in which microwave photons – energetic packets of light – traveled “instantaneously” between a pair of prisms that had been moved from a few millimeters to up to one meter apart.
When the prisms were placed together, photons fired at one edge passed straight through them, as expected.
After they were moved apart, most of the photons reflected off the first prism they encountered and were picked up by a detector. But a few photons appeared to “tunnel” through the gap separating them as if the prisms were still held together.
Although these photons had traveled further, they arrived at their detector at exactly the same time as the reflected photons. In effect, they had traveled faster than light.
Nimtz told New Scientist magazine: “This is the only violation of special relativity that I know of.”
The duo say being able to travel faster than the speed of light would lead to a wide variety of bizarre consequences.
For instance, an astronaut moving faster than it would theoretically arrive at a destination before leaving, they said.
The scientists said they were investigating a phenomenon called quantum tunneling, which allows sub-atomic particles to break apparently unbreakable laws.
“For the time being, this is the only violation of special relativity that I know of,” Nimtz said.