Fundamental Constants of Physics may change

Artist's rendition of quasar
Artist’s rendition of quasar

A team of researchers have found that the constants related to the speed of light or charge of electron can change from place to place in universe.

This research is published in the recent journal of Physical Review Letters. If it is true then the fundamental assumption of physics will be overturned, but some scientists are still doubtful about this.

The constant under observation is the “fine-structure constant”. This constant is referred to as “alpha” in short,  the value of this constant is about 1/137 and it shows the strength of electromagnetic force and thereby determines the exact wavelengths of light, an atom will absorb.

Professor John Webb of the University of New South Wales (UNSW) School of Physics, said

“After measuring alpha in around 300 distant galaxies, a consistency emerged: this magic number, which tells us the strength of electromagnetism, is not the same everywhere as it is here on Earth, and seems to vary continuously along a preferred axis through the universe,”

Researchers based their observation on the measurements made with the Very Large Telescope (VLT) in Chile, along with the previous findings made with the world’s largest optical telescopes at the Keck Observatory, in Hawaii.

Julian King, co-author of the research and the UNSW doctoral student said,

“The Keck telescopes and the VLT are in different hemispheres; they look in different directions through the universe. Looking to the north with Keck we see, on average, a smaller alpha in distant galaxies, but when looking south with the VLT we see a larger alpha.

It varies by only a tiny amount – about one part in 100,000 – over most of the observable universe, but it’s possible that much larger variations could occur beyond our observable horizon.”

Dr. Michael Murphy, co-author from the Swinburne University of Technology said,

“The fine structure constant, and other fundamental constants, are absolutely central to our current theory of physics. If they really do vary, we’ll need a better, deeper theory,”


Webb, J. K. et. al. (2011). Indications of a Spatial Variation of the Fine Structure Constant. Physical Review Letters, 107(19), 191101.

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