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Quasars Hint That the Laws of Nature Change Over Time

Quasar 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.

The fine-structure constant, or alpha, is the coupling constant for the electromagnetic force. 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 in our universe to exist.

A new study show that alpha seems to have varied a tiny bit in different directions of the universe billions of years ago, being slightly smaller in the northern hemisphere and slightly larger in the southern hemisphere. One intriguing implication is that the fine-structure constant is continuously varying in space, and seems fine-tuned for life in our neighborhood of the universe.

The physicists, John Webb from the University of New South Wales and his coauthors, used data from two telescopes to uncover the spatial dependence of the fine-structure constant. Using the north-facing Keck telescope in Mauna Kea, Hawaii, and the south-facing Very Large Telescope (VLT) in Paranal, Chile, the researchers observed more than 100 quasars, which are extremely luminous and distant galaxies that are powered by massive black holes at their centers.

By combining the data from the two telescopes that look in opposite directions, 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. The data for this “dipole” model of alpha has a statistical significance of about 4.1 sigma, meaning that that there is only a one in 15,000 chance that it is a random event.

Quasars are highly luminous objects that emit light over a wide range of wavelengths, with peaks at several wavelengths due to emission by elements such as hydrogen, nitrogen, silicon, carbon and iron in the gas

around the quasar. When light from the quasar passes near a galaxy on itsway to Earth, the gas around the galaxy causes a distinct pattern ofabsorption lines in the quasar spectrum. By measuring thewavelengths of the absorption lines due to heavy elementswe can determine both the redshift of the gas and the value of the fine-structure constant, alpha, at the time when the light from the quasar was absorbed. Such observations suggest that the value of alpha was slightly smaller billions of years ago. 

Quasars are compact but highly luminous objects -so luminous that they can be studied in intricate detail using ground-based telescopes despite being vast distancesaway from us. We think that quasars contain blackholes at their centres and that the immense gravitational force exerted by the black hole is extremely efficient at converting matter in its vicinity into light.

Since quasars are found in all directions in the sky, they provide a powerful way of charting almost the entire universe. Some quasars are so far away that we see them as they were billions of years ago. Indeed, by observing quasars scientists can chart a continuous “universal history” that starts when the universe was only about one billion years old and continues up to the present day.

Scientists cannot study alpha with any reasonable precision using the quasars themselves.Rather,we must examine what happens when the radiation from a quasar passes through a galaxy that lies between the Earth and the quasar.The quasar emits light over a broad range of wavelengths.However, when this light passes through the gas around the galaxy,a characteristic pattern of absorption lines, or "bar code," will be superimposed on it.

The presence of an absorption line at a particular wavelength reveals that a specific element is present in the gas cloud, and the width of each line shows the quantity of the element that is present. In addition to hydrogen, which is ubiquitous in the universe, these “bar codes” reveal that the gas clouds contain a range of other elements, including magnesium, iron, zinc, silicon, aluminium and chromium.

Moreover, the bar code reveals what was happening when the light passed through the cloud, which could have happened as long ago as just one billion years after the Big Bang. Although the gas cloud would have evolved into something quite different by today, its bar code provides us with a permanent imprint of its state in the distant past – including information about the value of alpha at that time.

By comparing the bar codes found in quasar absorption spectra with the bar codes we measure for the same atoms and ions in the laboratory, Webb and team could find out if the physics responsible for the absorption of radiation by atoms has changed over the history of the universe. In other words, they can find out if alpha has changed.

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.

Casey Kazan via http://www.phys.unsw.edu.au/astro/research/PWAPR03webb.pdf


I hope this pans out into established cosmological thought because I'm sick of the fine tuned universe argument from theists. The Mega-verse idea is nice but it doesn't have any empirical backing but importantly it proposed the idea that this insight is hinting at.

"The quasar results are eventually confirmed."
Correct: "Not confirmed"

"One intriguing implication is that the fine-structure constant is continuously varying in space, and seems fine-tuned for life in our neighborhood of the universe."

LOL....if that is implied it is implied by people who have wrong idea's.
Smells like an excuse for Intelligent Design to me.
Also, a constant that is NOT constant isn't a constant. It's something else. If what we think is a constant turns out not being constant, there's something wrong with our model.

That a non-constantness of this constant would violate relativity is completely unimportant, relativity is in error anyway.

Oddly, all of this goes back to Hubble himself who suggested the idea that light might vary on its way across the universe, becoming "tired" by losing some of its energy. This has been debunked, but if the above article has any merit, Tired Light theories might be revisited.

I'm always annoyed how in relativity light speed c is always a constant yet we know it slows down traveling through water and denser mediums. The fact is these are PRESUMED constants of nature, especially Newtons gravity constant, and are approximations proportional comparsions to make their equations work out. THe FUNDAMENTAL CONSTANTS like ALPHA are FAR MORE IMPORTANT, because they are INDEPENDENT OF MEASUREMENT and have a fixed value which is 1/137 . IF ALPHA VARIES THEN GRAVITATIONAL STRENGTH WILL VARY AND THE LAWS OF THE UNIVERSE WILL VARY EVERYWHERE !!! ATOMS WILL BE UNIQUE ONLY TO what we are currently seeing form our VISIBLE UNIVERSE HORIZON. Check out my website for more links and information about this.

kij hhh

Comment by Jim Hansen have some flaws. Speed of light in vacuum only is considered as constant. The speed does change in any material depending on its refractive index.There are several questions that are still unanswered in cosmology. How matter and energy get produced may well be due to local distortions in space and time respectively. Space and time are just concepts postulated in Physics and Einstein is the main contributor, But all scientists predictions are liable to modification, as more facts come to be measured or new and better concepts are comprehended. Science is an effort, a relative one, to understand the creation as the Creator watches we siblings doing what we do abut understanding Him and His Creation!

I'm amazed by these people that come up with theories that 'the laws of the universe have changed', 'the gasses that all animal life exhale are killing the planet', or 'energy is leaching off into another universe'.

Seriously, are they so lost when they try to explain anomalies using logical reasoning that they must resort to whatever random garbage comes to mind? One equation used in quantum mechanics involves dividing both sides of an equation by 'infinity' in order to translate a free-flying photon back into an energy level of an electron... Idiocy...

If, as it now seems to be accepted, there are gases in the vicinity of galaxies, i.e. galaxies have an atmosphere, which logically must vary in density with altitude from the galaxy centre, then such concepts as gravitational lensing (and relativity theory) are invalid.
As Paul Cook pointed out light velocity is dependent on the density of the media, thus what is described as gravitational lensing is in fact refraction.
The velocity of light is not a constant.

Hooke's equation Law of Motion is also Newton's Gravity, and Keplers Law of Motion that specifically applies for orbiting stars around galaxies all having black hole centers. The extra force on the star increases with distance from the black hole center, so tiny dwarf galaxies with intermediate sized black holes like nearby Segue 1 have only 2,000 stars but require having more dark matter then any galaxy in the universe to keep their shape. Strange having a galaxy neigbor which violates the Copernican Principle. Get rid of ideas that dark matter particles exist, and realize that string theory supports a universe having a varying fine-structure constant, with 10 or 26 dimensions.

The fourth phase transition of the Newtonian spacetime leads to the object before big bang suited to life – it was torus and spherical mass in its centre. Our early Universe arose as the cosmic loop inside the torus and these two objects had the internal helicity i.e. they were the dipoles producing a jet in the Einstein spacetime. Evolution of the object before big bang led to the dark energy – it is the thickened Einstein spacetime composed in the ground state of the non-rotating binary systems of neutrinos. Just at the beginning of the big bang, on the expanding cosmic loop arose the protuberances in the thickened Einstein spacetime. Within the Everlasting Theory, I calculated with very high accuracy the physical constants from properties of the Newtonian spacetime. For example, these calculations lead to conclusion that the fine-structure constant is proportional to five third power of the mass density of the Einstein spacetime – see formulae (15)-(21). To obtain for the fine-structure constant the observed maximal change about 10^-5, the maximal change of the density of the Einstein spacetime should be about 10^-3. Such changes were possible ONLY just at the beginning of the big bang – see the chapter ‘New Cosmology’ (pages 50-65). The jet and the protuberances on surface of our very early Universe led to very high redshift for quasars. The jet and the protuberances produced regions in the Einstein spacetime with increased or decreased mass density in comparison with its mean mass density. The spatial dependence of the fine structure constant arose just at the beginning of the big bang. Its dipolar part arose due to the jet. The monopole part is due to the protuberances. The total spatial dependence should be positive because there was more THICKENED Einstein spacetime than today. It means that all measurements for the quasars with very high redshift (in the Everlasting theory the high redshift starts from z=0.6415), i.e. from the Keck telescope and the ESO Very Large Telescope, can be correct.
The Everlasting theory leads also to conclusion that we should not observe a spatial dependence of the gravitational constant.

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