back to article Is the electromagnetic constant a constant?

Could yet another universal constant, the value assigned to the electromagnetic force, be less constant than we thought? And could variability of the constant help explain life in the universe? That’s the tantalizing hypothesis offered by Australian astronomers, who believe that the value alpha, referring to the strength of the …

COMMENTS

This topic is closed for new posts.

Page:

Joke

I am offended by the fact that you think you can do something offensive then just put "no offence" at the end and think that is OK!

3
0
Silver badge
Coat

More

I'm offended at people being referred to as "scientists" and not "boffins". Ricky Gervais pales into insignificance in terms of slights.

2
0
Boffin

Avoiding α

Is one thing. 'σ' is another. (It's a lowercase - but not word-final - Sigma (Σ).)

0
0
Silver badge
Joke

I just thought the Greeks were charging for the use of their letters, you know, just to start balancing the books

11
0

not again

This seems a bit of a canard:

http://motls.blogspot.com/2010/09/variable-fine-structure-constant-is.html

"Do I believe the paper? The short answer is No."

Ok, he is an unknown blogger. But he makes sense.

1
0
Silver badge
Holmes

>motls.blogspot.com

>Lubos Motl

>unknown blogger

More like well-known foul-mouthed fanboi of Stringy Theories. Apparently he is ok in Real Life though.

1
0
Silver badge
Coat

>Apparently he is ok in Real Life though.

Most of us are, thank $DEITY

0
0
Silver badge

fine structure

This is the fine structure constant yes/no?

If so it is known (defined?) to be a ratio between electron charge, Planck constant, speed of light, & permativity/permeability of free space.

So which of these is also varying around the dipole? Seems like we only got half the story.

Sounds like a new type of michelson-morley to me.

0
0
Gold badge

I've read various papers that suggest that the speed of light is not constant (although this suggested that it varied as the matter in the universe condensed), and that permativity of free space changes (although I can't remember the details of where/when).

I also saw a good documentary on the measurement of α ("alpha" for facebook readers) and this touched on the possibility of it not being constant over the life of the universe (although maybe this part of the documentary came from some of these guys.

0
0
Gold badge

Theorists have long speculated that any and all of the "fundamental constants" might not be constant at all points in space-time. However, its kinda tough to build a working theory if you don't know which constants are varying and by how much.

On the face of it, this looks like some experimental evidence that might help. Maybe not too much, though, since "very distant" also means "very old" and "lots of unknown stuff in between" so we have rather a lot of uncontrolled variables.

0
0
Silver badge
Happy

Well if this is in fact correct it puts a dirty great hole in the idea that life is special because some 'entity' made sure the conditions were exactly right.

8
5
Silver badge

Or it boosts it, by providing evidence that the entity in question crafted a cosmos with a high degree of variability within certain bounds that would provide both safe areas for life to thrive and other, interesting areas from which they could gain insight and knowledge and ultimately understanding of their role.

Or you could put the "lets poke fun at people who believe different things to me" snottiness aside and just enjoy an interesting and potentially very important scientific discovery.

Assuming it isn't instrumental problems, which it may be...

12
9

@Will

I'm not a God-bothering pixie-chaser by any stretch, but I have to say that Graham's argument appeals more to me than your's.

It's not often I'll say this, but +1 for the religious argument. Good point, well scored.

5
0
Anonymous Coward

“I don’t see any other possibility, other than systematic effects in the data,” he said.

Of course that's one hell of a possibility, particularly when you consider that he had two telescopes facing opposite directions, one in the northern hemisphere and one in the southern hemisphere, and one of them produced all the above-expected measurements of alpha and the other produced the below-expected values. Quite a coincidence that they just happened to have been built aligned with the universal dipole, no? I think they just weren't calibrated correctly against each other.

3
5
Silver badge
Boffin

NO.

1. He did use two telescopes: Keck and VLT

2. The two telescopse are in different hemispheres, but they do not face in opposite directions. They are separated by 45 degrees of latitude. This means that their vectors diverge by half of a right angle.

3. While (2) does mean that they observe different areas of the sky, there is some overlap, some of which was used in the study.

4. Both telescopes produced both above- and below-expected measurements.

5. The dipole is not in alignment with the vector of either telescope.

All of this I got from reading the full abstract from arxiv. Pay close attention to fig.5 (supplementary at the end of the pdf) -- it summarizes most of the points above nicely.

9
0
Bronze badge

Red shift?

But looking at stuff with extreme red shifts means they are at extreme distances. And so we are looking at events in the Universe's distant past. Back then, alpha may indeed have been different. But it could very well have been different in the vicinity of the Earth as well. Back before the complex molecular interactions we depend upon were important. So it might be more accurate to say that we (and those distant aliens) happen to live in a time that is conducive to life. Not a region.

Some alien astrophysicist on a planet orbiting that distant star with (what we observe to be) anomalous red shifts doesn't see them now. But when he (I know, presumptuous of me to apply our gender specific pronouns to aliens) looks toward earth, he may observe the same differences from what he presumes to be essential for life. In our distant past. And writes our end of the Universe off as uninhabitable. And he thanks his local God for blessing his race as special.

0
0
Silver badge
Boffin

Re: Red shift?

If that age is the reason, the alpha value should appear to change the same way when the distance increases, no matter which way you look. But these guys claim the value is different when looking at regions in different directions.

1
0
Silver badge

The ringing from the big bang is observable elsewhere.

Could be that. Or, perhaps, an effect of long-distance and dark matter.

Or simply inadequate instrumentation measuring a high noise/low signal data stream ... which would be my guess. Lex parsimoniae[1] & all that.

[1] Occam's razor, for the illiterate amongst all y'all.

1
3
Anonymous Coward

@jake

Actually, I suspect those here who have read the works of William Ockham are far more literate than those who can only quote a couple of latin buzzwords.

Delphinum natare doces & all that.

3
0

Dolphin in sweet cream sauce?

8
0
Silver badge

I prefer the quote attributed to Einstein ..

which (roughly) is ..

"In science everything should be as simple as possible ...but no simpler"

0
0

You teach the dolphin to swim?

Go go google translate, im quite sure its wrong.

0
0
Anonymous Coward

So long!

And thanks for all the fish.

0
0
Silver badge

@AC 08:28 ... Fish swim.

Dolphins don't swim (being air breathers); rather they float with propulsion.

In this light, think about what I wrote. And why.

Gawd/ess, why do I bother ... Maybe I should stop tilting at windmills.

Age quod agis ... or perhaps castigat ridendo mores is more appropriate ;-)

0
0
Silver badge

No, pepper, the translation is correct.

In English, it translates roughly to "don't teach your Granny to suck eggs".

0
0
Silver badge
Alien

He may have discovered the direction from which the Thargiod invasion fleet is coming.

1
0
JDX
Gold badge

@Will Godfrey

As a Physicist and a Bible-believing christian, I don't think so. Scientific atheists (or more commonly atheists who claim to understand science and Christianity but are in reality rather ignorant of both) like to claim believers use God to fill in the gaps science hasn't yet explained. That WOULD be a very weak position, but it's not accurate. The two are not incompatible.

2
7
Mushroom

The bible.

It's rather thin on the ground, physics-wise. It has a bit of chemistry (phase-change of water when in contact with Jesus' feet, Spontaneous change of Oxidane to Merlot in Caanan-based weddings) and some biology (Asexual reproduction based on Rib metamorphosis, and the best one, taking two of each animal onto an ark, without having any way to reliably sex some of these animals).

I find that the whole concept of religion incredibly stupid. Some people wrote some stories, those stories were accepted or rejected in 300AD and only the accepted ones are the absolute truth?

No, I will stick to Science and not claim that religion can play a part.

7
1

sadly...

Sadly you've just emphasised the point that you were contesting; and for easy points I refer to your use of "whole" as in "whole concept of religion". I don't see that anyone who can justifiably use the world "whole" in that sense could come up with such a simple conclusion.

There is an old joke, the deist says to the atheist: "This god you don't believe in... I don't believe in him either"

The religionists and anti-religionists generally spend their time fighting each-others shadows.

Meanwhile the true scientists, deists and philosophers carry on with their search for truth.

0
1
Silver badge

"taking two of each animal onto an ark"

Leading to totally inbred animals

1
1

The thing is...

Where historically gods were used to explain anything that was not understood, the situation changed after QM. QM gaves us a bunch of answers, but also told us that there are some things we will just never know. I'm not religous, but do see that there's a space for God which science will simply never fill.

0
2

@JDX

See, what you're doing here is assuming that all believers share your views of their religion, where the sad fact is that many do not have the first clue about how to be the littlest bit open-minded, and by that, I mean willing to challenge their beliefs in light of what they see. I know someone who has switched from theist to atheist to theist to atheist, and at all times I respected him, because each switch was driven by his quest for truth, not by simply looking at the facts and assuming you know the answers already, which, when it comes to science, is what religious types have been doing since the very first human looked at the rain and said "I bet someone's up there peeing on my head". The majority of believers do *not* try to resolve their religion with science, they don't see any need to, so they just quite happily assume things that do not work. Like believing the stories of Noah, or that the world was created in six literal days, or that prophecy occurs, or that things in their life are happening because some being is interacting with them, rather than it just being down to luck, or that prayer actually works, or that faith healing isn't a scam, or that exorcism actually purifies people of demons, or that this world isn't actually real and you can manipulate it with your mind.

The figures on creationism surveys in the US that Dawkins thoroughly enjoys quoting show just how many religious people really don't see their religion as compatible with science, and I would suspect that, unless you're a Deist (I don't see much point in being a Deist, it doesn't really add anything useful), there *is* a boundary at which your religion is not compatible with science. Maybe you don't find abiogenesis to be very likely, or maybe you won't accept an explanation for the big bang that isn't your god, but at some point you have decided that taking god as an explanation is more important than asking further questions.

Even if you just look at your texts you'll see things that fly in the way of physics. So (apologies if I'm wrong), assuming you're a Christian, how do you explain the miracles that Jesus performed in a scientific context? You *have* to do this if you think there's no disconnect between religion and science. Even if you say "well my god is all powerful so it's supernatural and all that", that's just not good enough. If that's what happened then something physical *did* happen, and if you can't provide a better explanation than it didn't actually happen (magic isn't a valid alternative), then your science is in direct conflict with your religious beliefs.

In short, if you believe in the Flood then you're not resolving science and religion, but if you don't (by maybe calling it just a story) then there will be a huge number of people who will call you a heretic.

1
2

@Chemist

Noah's approach was a bit hit and miss to me..... 2 of each or maybe 7 or even 20 depending on where you look ; Genesis 6:19-20, 2 or 20 and Genesis 7:2-3; every clean animal by sevens... ...not clean two...

At least Dr Merkwurkdigliebe adopted as slightly more scientific approach

And a computer could be set and programmed to accept factors from youth, health, sexual fertility, intelligence, and a cross section of necessary skills. Of course it would be absolutely vital that our top government and military men be included to foster and impart the required principles of leadership and tradition. Naturally, they would breed prodigiously, eh? There would be much time, and little to do. But ah with the proper breeding techniques and a ratio of say, ten females to each male, I would guess that they could then work their way back to the present gross national product within say, twenty years.

0
0
Silver badge

As a total aside..

I wouldn't have known you in my former life as Von K by any chance ?

If you don't immediately know what I mean that's fine - Von K isn't you

0
0
Silver badge

typical aethist, just like the devil

never quotes the entire thing directly. It's not 2 of each animal, it's two of each UNCLEAN animal an 7 of each CLEAN.

Now if you ascribe to Darwinism, which by definition us Bible thumpers don't, there isn't actually a problem with this and the inbred animals, because you are closer to the "pure" un-mutated genes the further back in time you go, and since this happened back near creation time, you wouldn't have the same inbreeding problems you would today.

0
2
Silver badge

But ...

they're NOT all inbred today ( including pigs). So where did they come from ?

0
0
Silver badge

OK, Tom 13, I'll bite.

Which version of the Genesis myth do you believe in? The one that starts at Gen1.1 and runs to 2.3, or the one that begins at Gen2.4 and runs through 2.25? They are clearly completely different in concept, and can't both be accurate.

0
0

Tom, just curious

Would you consider the last two Popes as Christian or not?

0
0
Bronze badge
Alert

DIPOLE

does this electromagnetic dipole fit neatly with the newly discovered dipole / axis around which our expanding (accelerating) universe is found to be spinning perchance ? My money would be on yes!

0
0
Gold badge
Mushroom

Red-shift / velocity / distance / time

I thought that the identification of red-shift / velocity uses the "fact" that spectral lines are "constant", and therefore if they are in the wrong place, then there must be red-shift caused by things moving relative to us. This gives us the theory that the universe is expanding.

Also the knowledge that certain types of star produce exactly the same output, so by measuring the light received from this type of star, we can know how far away they are; and hence when that light left the star. However both of these require that various things are constant, so that this type of star always has the same mass when it novas, and also that the speed of light is constant to know the distance. This gives us the theory that the expansion of the universe is accelerating.

Of course; these require all the constants to be, constant, and that means constant over the whole universe, and constant over the entire age of the universe. If these constants are not constant, then maybe the theories need to be looked at. Where is the "my brain hurts" icon?

0
0
Silver badge
Boffin

One missing

I thought that too, but then remembered that it's also possible to measure the distance of stars using trigonometry based on it's position in the sky compared with where we are (measure the angles once in spring, once 6 months later - your reference points are now 300,000,000km apart and you can draw a very slim triangle and solve for the "height")

0
0
Silver badge

Yeah, but even with our historical knowledge and modern technology

the number of stars to which we can calculate the distance based on trig functions is really very, very small. Most of it is done on the basis of red-shifting and the assumption of constant emission lines. Yeah, Astro has a lot of very circular calculating. It's part of what makes it so challenging as a field of science. Most scientists can put their hands on what they are testing. Even the nuclear guys can build experiments for the stuff they can't touch. Astro, we'll we've got everything observed from Copernicus on, and a few bits and pieces before that, but very few experiments for which apparatuses can be made. It's mostly thought stuff, and that's where Plato went wrong too. Astro folk get just enough experimentation to keep them honest.

0
0
Bronze badge
Meh

not quite

only for close stars. Go outside the local area and the angles are too small to measure. And all of the above assumes red shift only map to distance and is constant in effect. Both reasonable assumptions, but not easily testable.

0
0
Silver badge

For purposes of testing the red shift hypothesis,

you can extract some information from binary pairs, especially pulsars. It depends on tracking the wobble of the light signature and calculating the masses of the stars so you can determine the orbital periods. Probably a few other things that I don't recall after 20 some years. But the results agreed well with the red-shift hypothesis, and elevated it to an established fact from which you could work other hypotheses.

0
0
Boffin

A couple ways of doing redshifts

Spectral lines are one, the other major one is finding some stellar object with a consistent spectrum, finding lots of examples of it, then comparing the shift of the entire spectral profile.

I would also presume that the shift in the lines is one that cannot be accounted for by redshift alone (i.e. it scales differently). Too late in the evening to have a look at the paper though.

0
0
Pint

Using symbols vs. words for "alpha"

I think it's absolutely fine to use a mixture of symbols and words. After all, as Aldous Huxley noted, "They can't all be alphas."

0
0
Anonymous Coward

Stop being confusing!

"the fine structure constant alpha increases at high redshifts"

Huh, what?

“fits a spatial dipole, significant at the 4.2σ level”

Ah, I get it now, why didn't you start by saying that.

"in other words, the constant’s value increases a little in one direction and falls in the other"

What? You lost me again!

1
1
Boffin

It may just be...

...That in areas where our kind of life is impossible due to different chemistry, other kinds of complex chemical or energy systems might arise. One of the reason we are based on carbon instead of silicon, is that silicon bonds are of different strength. Perhaps in other places silicon is more suitable? Same goes for other elements.

The scary thing, however, is that a possibility of anisotropic (changing with location) constants opens up a possibility of anisochronic (changing with time) constants, in other words, that alpha might change in our region in the future, obliterating life as it does. We don't even know how large the change has to be to affect such a complex creature as ourselves. Not to mention the remote possibility of artificially changing said constants.

1
0
Silver badge
Boffin

As life arose at least 3 billion years ago

I do not think anything is changing in a big hurry.

0
0
Gold badge
Joke

You wait for 1 experiment to (potentially) undermine large parts of modern physics

Then 2 come along together.

On a more serious note I think anything that shows "universal" physical constants are *not* universal is pretty interesting, firstly that they do, secondly by how much.

But as always extraordinary claims require extraordinary *data* to back them up (and error control procedures to prove they are not instrument effects).

3
0

Page:

This topic is closed for new posts.

Forums