Evidence found for a change in the fundamental physical constant

Evidence found for a change in the fundamental physical constant

A group of physicists presented evidence that one of the fundamental physical constants – the fine structure constant – changes in space and time. Confirmation of this fact will mean that physical laws do not “work” as it is generally believed today, reports lenta.ru

The fine structure constant, also called alpha, characterizes the strength of electromagnetic interactions and, in particular, determines how tightly atoms hold on to their electrons. The value of this constant is 1/137, but some of the existing theories suggest that it can change in space and time. If this fact is proved, then physicists will have to build theories differently, explaining the structure of the Universe, in particular, they will be forced to reconsider their views on the creation of a theory that unites four basic fundamental physical interactions – electromagnetic, gravitational, strong and weak.

To date, several research teams have released evidence that the value of alpha in the past was different from that of today, but this data has been highly controversial. In one of the works, scientists analyzed the light reaching the Earth from distant quasars – galaxies, in the center of which is a supermassive black hole. Traveling through the Universe, the radiation of quasars passes through clouds of gas and dust and is partially absorbed by them. Since the absorption features depend on the value of alpha, analyzing the light coming to Earth from quasars, scientists can estimate the value of the fine structure constant at large distances from the solar system and in the distant past (since light travels with a finite speed, analyzing radiation from distant objects, physics find out what they were like many years ago).

In early work, scientists analyzed radiation with the Keck telescope in Hawaii and showed that the alpha value in the past was slightly less than it is now. The authors of the new study worked with the Very Large Telescope (VLT) array of telescopes in Chile. They analyzed light from 153 quasars and found that in the young Universe, the fine structure constant was slightly larger than it is at present. Since the Keck telescope “looks” at the sky in the northern hemisphere, and the VLT – in the southern, the data from these two studies indicate that the value of alpha changes not only in time, but also in space.

If the conclusion made in the new work is confirmed, then the supporters of the so-called anthropic principle will receive new evidence of its legitimacy. This principle implies that the observable universe is unique, since the combination of fundamental constants in it makes human existence possible. A slight displacement of any of them would lead to the fact that humanity, or even stars and planets in the form in which we know them, would not be able to form.

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