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Physicists report that sub-atomic particles called neutrinos can travel faster than light, a finding that, if verified, would blast a hole in Einstein's theory of relativity.

In experiments conducted between the European Centre for Nuclear Research (CERN) in Switzerland and a laboratory in Italy, the tiny particles were clocked at 300,006 kilometres per second, about six km/sec faster that the speed of light, the researchers said.

"This result comes as a complete surprise," said physicist Antonio Ereditato, spokesman for the experiment, known as OPERA.

"We wanted to measure the speed of neutrinos, but we didn't expect to find anything special."

Scientists spent nearly six months "checking, testing, controlling and rechecking everything" before making an announcement, he said.

Researchers involved in the experiments were cautious in describing its implications, and called on physicists around the world to scrutinise their data.

But the findings, they said, could potentially reshape our understanding of the physical world.

"If this measurement is confirmed, it might change our view of physics," said CERN research director Sergio Bertolucci.

The finding could force scientists to rethink the fundamentals of physics. It has surprised them so much they are asking other scientists to replicate their results.

Al Jazeera's Peter Sharp reports.

Source: Al Jazeera