CERN scientists said on Thursday they had recorded sub-atomic particles travelling faster than light, producing a finding that could overturn fundamental law of physics such as one of Einstein's long-accepted special relativity theory.
The international team of scientists are now planning to put the finding to further high-speed tests as if confirmed, the findings could require a revolutionary shift in explaining the workings of the universe.
Only two labs elsewhere in the world can try to replicate the results, and include Fermilab, located outside Chicago and another Japanese lab which has been put on hold by the tsunami and earthquake.
Fermilab officials have met Thursday to discuss the need to help verify the European study and announced their particle beam is already up and running.
There is one problem however since the measuring systems are not nearly as precise as the Europeans' and will not be upgraded for a while, said Fermilab scientist Rob Plunkett.
"This thing is so important many of the normal scientific rivalries fall by the wayside," said Plunkett, a spokesman for the Fermilab team's experiments. "Everybody is going to be looking at every piece of information."
Researchers at CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, who announced the discovery Thursday are still said to be amazed and surprised at the discovery.
Antonio Ereditato, spokesman for the team of researchers, told Reuters "We have high confidence in our results. We have checked and rechecked for anything that could have distorted our measurements but we found nothing," he said. "We now want colleagues to check them independently."
If the discovery is confirmed it would challenge Albert Einstein's 1905 theory of special relativity, which contend that the speed of light is a "cosmic constant" and that nothing in the universe can travel faster.
Einstein's theory, which until now remained unchallenged despite over a century of testing, is one of the key elements of the so-called Standard Model of physics, which attempts to describe the way the universe and everything in it works, so if confirmed the finding will fundamentally change our understanding of how the world works, physicists said.
The astonishing results came after the team of physicists worked on an experiment called OPERA which was run by the CERN particle research centre near Geneva and the Gran Sasso Laboratory in central Italy.
A total of 15,000 beams of neutrinos, which are tiny particles that fill the cosmos, were fired over a period of 3 years from CERN near Geneva towards Gran Sasso in Italy 730 (500 miles) km away, where they were picked up by giant detectors.
Surprisingly, the measurements taken by the team over three years showed that neutrinos pumped from CERN to Gran Sasso had arrived 60 nanoseconds quicker than light would have done.
"It is a tiny difference," said Ereditato, "but conceptually it is incredibly important. The finding is so startling that, for the moment, everybody should be very prudent."
Ereditato was reluctant to talk about what it might happen if the findings happen to be correct. "I just don't want to think of the implications," he told Reuters. "We are scientists and work with what we know."
For many, the findings could in the future, provide answers to a theory often used in science-fiction literature, which is based on the idea that, time travel could theoretically become possible if the light-speed barrier can be overcome.
The existence of the neutrino, an elementary sub-atomic particle with a tiny amount of mass created in radioactive decay or in nuclear reactions such as those in the Sun, was first confirmed in 1934.
It still however mystifies researchers as, even over long distances, it can pass through most matter undetected, and without being affected. Millions pass through the human body every day, scientists say.
Around 750 scientists from 22 different countries work there, attracted by the possibility of staging experiments in its three massive halls, protected from cosmic rays by some 1,400 metres (4,200 feet) of rock overhead.