We have uncovered possible evidence for variations in one of nature’s fundamental ‘constants’ across the sky and possibly throughout the universe. Physical Review Letters has just published our findings (2011/10/31), which combine 154 new measurements of the ‘fine-structure constant’ – effectively, the strength of electromagnetism – from the Very Large Telescope (VLT) in Chile with 141 previous measurements we’d made on the Keck Telescope in Hawaii. Together, these measurements are spread over a wide area across the sky, giving us the greatest sensitivity so far to search for possible spatial variations in nature’s physical laws. These new results are the culmination of about 7 years of work with John Webb, Julian King, Victor Flambaum and others at the University of New South Wales.
The paper details are:
Webb J.K., King J.A., Murphy M.T., Flambaum V.V., Carswell R.F., Bainbridge M.B.,
Indications of a Spatial Variation of the Fine Structure Constant,
2011, Phys. Rev. Lett., 107, 191101, arXiv:1008.3907.
Check out the media releases from the University of New South Wales and Swinburne University of Technology media releases for a quick overview of the news. For a layman’s description of these results, see my page, ‘Are Nature’s Laws Really Universal?‘. See also John Webb’s article in The Conversation, plus his webpage with a Q&A and record of media activity about these results.
Some of the more prominent media activities have been:
- The Economist (2010/08/31);
- PhysicsWorld (2010/09/02);
- USA Today (2010/09/03);
- ABC Australia (2010/09/06);
- New Scientist (2010/09/08);
- BBC Radio 4 (2010/09/10);
- PhysOrg.com (2011/10/31);
- Daily Mail (2011/11/01);
- ABC Australia (2011/11/02);
- Science Friday on National Public Radio (2011/11/04);
- Science Magazine (2011/11/04).
Our much more detailed paper describing these results has now been accepted to Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society:
King J.A., Webb J.K., Murphy M.T., Flambaum V.V., Carswell R.F., Bainbridge M.B., Wilczynska M.R., Koch F.E.,
Spatial variation in the fine-structure constant – new results from VLT/UVES,
2012, Mon. Not. Roy. Astron. Soc., 422, 3370, arXiv:1202.4758.
We can also now make available the following supplementary materials:
- Appendix C: Voigt profile fits.
- Text table containing all 154 & 141 Δα/α values from VLT and Keck, respectively.