April 27, 2006 | David F. Coppedge

Unconstant Constant Could Challenge Basic Physics

“Shifting constant could shake laws of nature,” said Mark Peplow in Nature.1  “From the speed of light to the charge on an electron, the fundamental constants of physics had been assumed to be immutable,” he continued.  “But that comfortable assumption is being challenged.”  The latest challenge is ratio of the mass of a proton to the mass of an electron (1,836); some Netherlands scientists who compared light from distant quasars with ultra-precise lab data claim it is decreasing.  The estimated decrease is small – just 20 parts per million over 12 billion years – but if accepted, could produce new ideas on how the universe is put together.  “Such an effect is not explained by anything in physicists’ standard model of particle physics,” Peplow said.  This story also made news of the week in Science magazine.2

1Mark Peplow, “Shifting constant could shake laws of nature,” Nature 440, 1094-1095 (27 April 2006) | doi:10.1038/4401094a.
2Adrian Cho, “Skewed Starlight Suggests Particle Masses Changed Over Eons,” Science, 21 April 2006: Vol. 312. no. 5772, p. 348, DOI: 10.1126/science.312.5772.348

CEH leaves this controversy for others to debate, but mentions it for those interested in “shaking the pillars to make sure they’re rigid” (or not) as Andy Fabian (U of Cambridge) is quoted as saying in the article.  Sometimes the most confident things in science become less confident as more knowledge is gained.  If we are not sure about constants of physics, how much less so for shaky, slippery things like evolutionary theory?

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Categories: Cosmology, Physics

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