Nature’s laws may vary across the Universe

The idea that the laws of physics remain constant across the universe is arguably a very important and universal concept in Physics. In fact in the case of the gravitational force this has been specifically stated in Einstein’s equivalence principle.

Recently experiments seem to enforce the idea that is not the case certainly for the fine structure constant (alpha). The first hints for a variability of alpha came from analysing observations of the Keck Observatory, in Hawaii. The new data from  the European Southern Observatory’s ‘Very Large Telescope’ in Chile was analysed by Professor Webb and others. He comments:

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

For those readers not familiar with the underlying physical concepts the reason this is such a great deal is that alpha is the constant characterising the strength of the electromagnetic force. The electromagnetic force is responsible for keeping all matter as we know it. If this constant changes everything about the make-up of the galaxy changes. The life that would be possible in those galaxies would not even compare to what we experience in our galaxy.

In some more recent theories in Physics this is not a problem, according to Professor Flambaum (another author on the recent paper on arXiv) the smooth transition may also imply that the Universe is larger than what we have observed up to now.

Further speculating on the results and applying them to the question, why the laws of physics seem to be so finely tuned for the existence of life, Professor Webb states

The answer may be that other regions of the Universe are not quite so favourable for life as we know it, and that the laws of physics we measure in our part of the Universe are merely ‘local by-laws’, in which case it is no particular surprise to find life here.


One comment

  1. Fascinating. This is why i went into physics. It seems we are getting to a point where there is no such thing as absolute constants. First speed of light now the fine structure constant, what next… ?

    Viva La Revolution


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