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The strength of the electromagnetic interaction, one of physics's most fundamental constants, is actually very slowly changing, and has different values in different parts of the universe. This amazing find could help us find a grand unified theory of physics.
The results seem to overturn Albert Einstein's notion of equivalence, a bedrock of general relativity that says α is invariant throughout time and space. That's actually good news for some theoretical physicists, as some leading candidates for a grand unified theory require equivalence to be quietly tossed aside. One major reason for this is that certain theories require the existence of extra hidden spatial dimensions, and those dimensions would seem to require α to vary.
Evidence for spatial variation of the fine structure constant
Authors: J. K. Webb, J. A. King, M. T. Murphy, V. V. Flambaum, R. F. Carswell, M. B. Bainbridge
(Submitted on 23 Aug 2010)
Abstract: We previously reported observations of quasar spectra from the Keck telescope suggesting a smaller value of the fine structure constant, alpha, at high redshift. A new sample of 153 measurements from the ESO Very Large Telescope (VLT), probing a different direction in the universe, also depends on redshift, but in the opposite sense, that is, alpha appears on average to be larger in the past. The combined dataset is well represented by a spatial dipole, significant at the 4.1 sigma level, in the direction right ascension 17.3 +/- 0.6 hours, declination -61 +/- 9 degrees. A detailed analysis for systematics, using observations duplicated at both telescopes, reveals none which are likely to emulate this result.
in 2007 simple flaws were identified in the analysis method of Chand et al., discrediting those results. Nevertheless, systematic uncertainties are difficult to quantify and so the Webb et al.. results still need to be checked by independent analysis, using quasar spectra from different telescopes.
5 pages, 5 figures, submitted to Physical Review Letters
From: John Webb, Mon, 23 Aug 2010 20:00:12 GMT
If alpha were just 4% bigger or smaller than it is, stars wouldn't be able to make carbon and oxygen, which would have made it impossible for life as we know it to exist...
...the researchers found that, 10 billion years ago, alpha seems to have been larger by about one part in 100,000 in the southern direction and smaller by one part in 100,000 in the northern direction. Source
This means that in one direction, the fine structure constant was once smaller and in exactly the opposite direction, it was once bigger. And here we are in the middle, where the constant as it is (about 1/137.03599...)
That's a mind blowing result. One of the biggest conundrums that cosmologists face is explaining why the fundamental constants of nature seem fine tuned for life. If the fine structure constant were very different, stars and atoms wouldn't form and the universe as we know it couldn't exist. No theory explains why it takes the value it does which leaves scientists at a loss.
The observed value of α is associated with the energy scale of the electron mass; the electron is a lower bound for this energy scale because it (and the positron) is the lightest charged object whose quantum loops can contribute to the running. Therefore 1/137.036 is the value of the fine structure constant at zero energy. Moreover, as the energy scale increases, the strength of the electromagnetic interaction approaches that of the other two fundamental interactions, a fact important for grand unification theories. If quantum electrodynamics were an exact theory, the fine structure constant would actually diverge at an energy known as the Landau pole. This fact makes quantum electrodynamics inconsistent beyond the perturbative expansions.
Each group of spectral optical lines mentioned above has a same n - number, but different values of l and j numbers. According to P.A.M. Dirac's relativistic quantum mechanics, energy levels of a one-electron atom (hydrogen is a good example) which have the same n and j numbers will coincide exactly - but their value will be different from that predicted by the Bohr's theory by an amount that is proportional to the square of the fine-structure constant (alpha).
There have been deviations from Dirac's theory discovered in 1947. Namely, the level having l=0 does not coincide with that having l=1. This discrepancy was later named the Lamb shift (after its discoverer Willis Lamb, Jr.) and is due to the interaction of an electron with the zero-point fluctuations of the electromagnetic field.
Originally posted by Thill
Well here is another interesting article for the science minded people of ATS .
Again I am not an expert in those things , but would this not mean that (as proposed many times before by different people) Einstein might not have been entirely right with his theories and maybe we should not dismiss other theories that are different just because they contradict Einsteins thinking ?
Edit: Edit to quote the "Physical Review Letters"
Einstein tried to reconcile his theories with theories in quantum mechanics until he died and ultimately failed.