Plenty of non-psychologists at Science20 feel free to write articles about the latest controversial psychological research and papers, so I also feel entitled as a laywoman to write about this latest quite controversial physics research and its implications, especially as this potentially ‘pseudoscientific’ and physics shattering research was appropriately published last week on Halloween and was produced by Australian researchers at the University of New South Wales, Sydney, version 2 now dated November 1st 2011 can be found at http://arxiv.org/PS_cache/arxiv/pdf/1008/1008.3907v2.pdf
The scientists performed a new analysis of data from Hawaii's Keck telescope and Chile's Very Large Telescope (VLT) and measured the light from distant quasars, which are huge, bright galactic nuclei, searching for the telltale 'signatures' of metal atoms located in between us and the distant galactic nuclei and amazingly they have recorded measurements that are quite different to similar measurements of atoms taken before here on Earth.
The researchers looked at 300 distant galaxies and their experiment found that the atoms in space behaved differently from ones on earth and that the strength of electromagnetism may change at different places in the universe.
This article at Physics Buzz describes how ‘When light hits an atom, specific wavelengths are absorbed by the atom’s electrons. These missing wavelengths can be seen as dark lines when the light is broken up into the color spectrum by a prism. Different kinds of atoms absorb different wavelengths of light, so this serves as a sort of cosmic fingerprint of what a distant object is made of.The researchers found these spectral lines were falling at different spots and in slightly different patterns along the spectrum than they ought to. The ions the team observed, including magnesium, nickel, chromium and zinc, seemed to be absorbing wavelengths of light they shouldn’t be’.
‘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’.
This claim has been greeted with much skepticism within the scientific community, even though according to Professor Flambaun 'Such violations are actually expected in some more modern ‘Theories of Everything' that try to unify all the known fundamental forces’. 'The smooth continuous change in alpha, may also imply the Universe is much larger than our observable part of it, possibly infinite.' ’Another currently popular idea is that many universes exist, each having its own set of physical laws,' Dr Murphy said. 'Even a slight change in the laws of Nature means they weren't ‘set in stone' when our Universe was born. 'The laws of Nature you see may depend on your "space-time address" when and where you happen to live in the Universe.'
In a similar fashion to OPERA’s disclaimer about their recent, hypothetical, superluminal, tachyon neutrino experimental results, these researchers have also pointed out that this recently measured smaller value of the fine structure constant alpha at high redshift, that they have observed, might be due to some as yet, undetected systematic effects.
If the new analysis of data from Hawaii's Keck telescope and Chile's Very Large Telescope, and from the OPERA experiment both end up being proved to be correct, then they would have profound implications for our understanding of the universe. They would shatter two crucial principles in physics, that nothing can travel faster than light and the belief in the 'constancy' of physics and science and the equivalence principle.
Both of these hypothetical ‘systematic errors’ if later proved not to be wrong, would also have serious implications for Einstein’s laws of Relativity and Special Relativity. Alternatively and probably more likely, as most scientists here at Science20 believe, they may just turn out to be a couple of interesting but accidental, man-made systematic errors, just a couple more accidental blips on the physics horizon. Either way, I’m enjoying the performance, even if poor Einstein was revolving in his grave again on Halloween.
J. K. Webb1, J. A. King1, M. T. Murphy2, V. V. Flambaum1, R. F. Carswell3, and M. B. Bainbridge1 'Indications of a Spatial Variation of the Fine Structure Constant', Phys. Rev. Lett. 107, 191101 (2011) [5 pages] see http://prl.aps.org/abstract/PRL/v107/i19/e191101
Rob Waugh, 'Laws of physics 'are different' depending on where you are in the universe'
Quantum at Physics Buzz, 'Another Law of Physics Broken?'
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