Wednesday, September 15, 2010

'Structure Constant' May Vary Slightly in Different Portions of The Universe

"In order for astronomers to explore the outer reaches of our universe, they rely upon the assumption that the physical constants we observe in the lab on Earth are physically constant everywhere in the universe. This assumption seems to hold up extremely well. If the universe’s constants were grossly different, stars would fail to shine and galaxies would fail to coalesce. Yet as far we we look in our universe, the effects which rely on these physical constants being constant, still seem to happen. But new research has revealed that one of these constants, known as the fine structure constant, may vary ever so slightly in different portions of the universe.
Since the two sets of telescopes used point in different directions (Keck in the Northern hemisphere and the VLT in the Southern), the researchers noticed that the variation seemed to have a preferred direction. As Julian King, one of the paper’s authors, explained, “Looking to the north with Keck we see, on average, a smaller alpha in distant galaxies, but when looking south with the VLT we see a larger alpha.”

However, “it varies by only a tiny amount — about one part in 100,000 — over most of the observable universe”. As such, although the result is very intriguing, it does not demolish our understanding of the universe or make hypotheses like that of a greatly variable speed of light plausible (an argument frequently tossed around by Creationists). But, “If our results are correct, clearly we shall need new physical theories to satisfactorily describe them.”

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