Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Constant Change

From the June 4 issue of NEW SCIENTIST:

Distant Gas Blob Threatens to Shake Nature's Constants

"The basic constants of nature aren't called constants for nothing. Physics is supposed to work the same way across the universe and over all of time. Now measurements of the radio spectra of a distant gas cloud hint that some fundamental quantities might not be fixed after all, raising the possibility that a radical rethink of the standard model of particle physics may one day be needed.

"The evidence comes from observations of a dense gas cloud some 2.9 billion light years away which has a radio source, the active supermassive black hole PKS 1413+135, right behind it. Hydroxyl radicals in the gas cloud absorb the galaxy's radio energy at certain wavelengths and emit it again at different wavelengths. This results in so-called "conjugate" features in the radio spectrum of the gas, with a dip in intensity corresponding to absorption and an accompanying spike corresponding to emission."

In the article, NEW SCIENTIST quotes Michael Murphy from University of Swinburne (Australia). For the past 9 years Murphy's team, including John Webb and Victor Flambaum, have investigated apparent changes in the fine structure constant. This value, e^2/hc, combines the speed of light with Planck's value h and the electron charge e. Though their work has received some good press from time to time, most of physics tries to ignore it. Accumulating evidence shows that "constants" aren't constant after all.

We are still winning.



Blogger Kea said...

Although these results do not specifically refer to alpha change, that has always been the preferred picture for these scientists. You, on the other hand, usually take alpha to be constant. This needs some discussion.

2:24 PM  
Blogger Ulla said...

9:40 AM  

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