Nature’s laws may vary across the Universe

One of the most cherished principles in science – the constancy of physics – may not be true, according to research carried out at the University of New South Wales (UNSW), Swinburne University of Technology and the University of Cambridge.

The study found that one of the four known fundamental forces, electromagnetism – measured by the so-called fine-structure constant and denoted by the symbol ‘alpha’ – seems to vary across the Universe. The first hints that alpha might not be constant came a decade ago when Professor John Webb, Professor Victor Flambaum, and other colleagues at UNSW and elsewhere, analysed observations from the Keck Observatory, in Hawaii. Those observations were restricted to one broad area in the sky.

However, now Webb and colleagues (PhD graduate Dr Julian King, PhD student Matthew Bainbridge and Professor Victor Flambaum at UNSW; Dr Michael Murphy at Swinburne University of Technology, and Professor Bob Carswell from Cambridge University) have doubled the number of observations and measured the value of alpha in about 300 distant galaxies, all at huge distances from Earth, and over a much wider area of the sky. The new observations were obtained using the European Southern Observatory’s ‘Very Large Telescope’ in Chile.

“The results astonished us,” said Professor Webb. “In one direction – from our location in the Universe – alpha gets gradually weaker, yet in the opposite direction it gets gradually stronger.”

via Nature’s laws may vary across the Universe.

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8 Responses to Nature’s laws may vary across the Universe

  1. alfy says:

    How many other shibboleths are about to fall? Only a couple of weeks ago we heard that light velocity may well not be constant, and now we wonder if the laws of physics vary from place to place. Set your watches for the end of the expanding universe.

  2. In science nothing and nobody has the last judgement. So any law, f.i. the constancy of the speed of light, can be subject to change sooner or later. There is no reason for anyone to be surprised by the findings of the alpha team. In physics there are lots of inconsistencies and incompatibilities. Even unfalsifiabilities. There are many famous physicists who believe some theories cannot be right for one reason or another. Determinists for instance find it difficult to accept quantum theories because of the uncertainty aspect. I have given possible explainations for the findings of the alpha team. Wiping them out without argunments or reasons is not only a lack of courtesy but also a lack of scientific interest. ..

  3. alfy says:

    I agree with most of what Mr Van Dijk has to say. However over the last 100 years few physicists took his liberal view “the constancy of the speed of light, can be subject to change sooner or later”, it was seen as a given, a fixed and unalterable aspect of the world of physics .

    I recall a discussion with two colleagues, a physicist and a chemist who were scornful of belief systems. I pointed out that in science there were three propositions which were beliefs, but not facts. 1 The universe is is capable of logical explanation. 2. The laws of physics we find here on earth also apply everywhere else in the universe, and 3. the speed of light is a universal constant. We needs must operate as if these propositions are true, but need to remember that they are beliefs and not facts.

    It now appears that two of these supposed fundamentals are in doubt. I pay every tribute to the researchers who have brought us these new insights. I don’t think my brief comments represent a lack of courtesy to them or a lack of interest in science. I do hope that number 1 does not also fall.

  4. @ alfy

    My comment was not addressed to you but to our host Deskarati who removed a comment of mine, a reference to some posts of my blog.

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