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Precise measurements on the light from distant quasars suggest that the value of the fine-structure constant may have changed over the history of the universe. If the quasar results are eventually confirmed, our concepts of space and time are sure to change our fundamental understanding of the universe.
Confirmation that alpha is changing would have profound implications for physics. For instance, the equivalence principle – one of the cornerstones of relativity theory– states that in freely falling reference frames, the outcome of any non-gravitational experiment is independent of when and where it is carried out. Changes in the value of alpha would constitute a violation of this principle.
The varying speed of light (VSL) theories, first proposed by John Moffat of the University of Toronto and developed in recent years by João Magueijo of Imperial College, John Barrow and others as an alternative to inflationary models in cosmology, could also lead to changes in the value of alpha in the early universe. Inflation and VSL theories attempt to explain features of the universe – such as its apparent flatness– that cannot be explained by the Big Bang theory alone.