Posted on Apr 27, 2020 in Astronomy, Astrophysics, Science
Our standard model of cosmology is based on an isotropic universe, one that is the same, statistically, in all directions, says astrophysicist John Webb at the University of New South Wales about the universal constant which appears inconstant at the outer fringes of the cosmos, it occurs in only one direction. .That standard model itself is built upon Einsteins theory of gravity, which itself explicitly assumes constancy of the laws of Nature. If such fundamental principles turn out to be only good approximations, the doors are open to some very exciting, new ideas in physics.
Those looking forward to a day when sciences Grand Unifying Theory of Everything could be worn on a t-shirt may have to wait a little longer as astrophysicists continue to find hints that one of the cosmological constants is not so constant after all.
In a paper published in Science Advances, scientists from UNSW Sydney reported that four new measurements of light emitted from a quasar 13 billion light years away reaffirm past studies that found tiny variations in the fine structure constant.
UNSW Sciences Professor Webb says the fine structure constant is a measure of electromagnetismone of the four fundamental forces in nature (the others are gravity, weak nuclear force and strong nuclear force).
The fine structure constant is the quantity that physicists use as a measure of the strength of the electromagnetic force, Professor Webb says. Its a dimensionless number and it involves the speed of light, something called Plancks constant and the electron charge, and its a ratio of those things. And its the number that physicists use to measure the strength of the electromagnetic force.
The electromagnetic force keeps electrons whizzing around a nucleus in every atom of the universewithout it, all matter would fly apart. Up until recently, it was believed to be an unchanging force throughout time and space. But over the last two decades, Professor Webb has noticed anomalies in the fine structure constant whereby electromagnetic force measured in one particular direction of the universe seems ever so slightly different.
Great Unknown Question The End of Spacetime
We found a hint that that number of the fine structure constant was different in certain regions of the universe. Not just as a function of time, but actually also in direction in the universe, which is really quite odd if its correct but thats what we found.
Ancient Quasars Offer Clues
Ever the sceptic, when Professor Webb first came across these early signs of slightly weaker and stronger measurements of the electromagnetic force, he thought it could be a fault of the equipment, or of his calculations or some other error that had led to the unusual readings. It was while looking at some of the most distant quasarsmassive celestial bodies emitting exceptionally high energyat the edges of the universe that these anomalies were first observed using the worlds most powerful telescopes.
The most distant quasars that we know of are about 12 to 13 billion light years from us, Professor Webb says.
So if you can study the light in detail from distant quasars, youre studying the properties of the universe as it was when it was in its infancy, only a billion years old. The universe then was very, very different. No galaxies existed, the early stars had formed but there was certainly not the same population of stars that we see today. And there were no planets.
He says that in the current study, the team looked at one such quasar that enabled them to probe back to when the universe was only a billion years old which had never been done before. The team made four measurements of the fine constant along the one line of sight to this quasar. Individually, the four measurements didnt provide any conclusive answer as to whether or not there were perceptible changes in the electromagnetic force. However, when combined with lots of other measurements between us and distant quasars made by other scientists and unrelated to this study, the differences in the fine structure constant became evident.
Our weird universe
And it seems to be supporting this idea that there could be a directionality in the universe, which is very weird indeed, Professor Webb says. So the universe may not be isotropic in its laws of physicsone that is the same, statistically, in all directions. But in fact, there could be some direction or preferred direction in the universe where the laws of physics change, but not in the perpendicular direction. In other words, the universe in some sense, has a dipole structure to it.
In one particular direction, we can look back 12 billion light years and measure electromagnetism when the universe was very young. Putting all the data together, electromagnetism seems to gradually increase the further we look, while towards the opposite direction, it gradually decreases. In other directions in the cosmos, the fine structure constant remains just thatconstant. These new very distant measurements have pushed our observations further than has ever been reached before.
In other words, in what was thought to be an arbitrarily random spread of galaxies, quasars, black holes, stars, gas clouds and planetswith life flourishing in at least one tiny niche of itthe universe suddenly appears to have the equivalent of a north and a south. Professor Webb is still open to the idea that somehow these measurements made at different stages using different technologies and from different locations on Earth are actually a massive coincidence.
This is something that is taken very seriously and is regarded, quite correctly with scepticism, even by me, even though I did the first work on it with my students. But its something youve got to test because its possible we do live in a weird universe.
But adding to the side of the argument that says these findings are more than just coincidence, a team in the US working completely independently and unknown to Professor Webbs, made observations about X-rays that seemed to align with the idea that the universe has some sort of directionality.
I didnt know anything about this paper until it appeared in the literature, he says.
And theyre not testing the laws of physics, theyre testing the properties, the X-ray properties of galaxies and clusters of galaxies and cosmological distances from Earth. They also found that the properties of the universe in this sense are not isotropic and theres a preferred direction. And lo and behold, their direction coincides with ours.
Answers the Cosmic Why
While still wanting to see more rigorous testing of ideas that electromagnetism may fluctuate in certain areas of the universe to give it a form of directionality, Professor Webb says if these findings continue to be confirmed, they may help explain why our universe is the way it is, and why there is life in it at all.
For a long time, it has been thought that the laws of nature appear perfectly tuned to set the conditions for life to flourish. The strength of the electromagnetic force is one of those quantities. If it were only a few percent different to the value we measure on Earth, the chemical evolution of the universe would be completely different and life may never have got going. It raises a tantalising question: does this Goldilocks situation, where fundamental physical quantities like the fine structure constant are just right to favor our existence, apply throughout the entire universe?
Shape-Shifting Cosmos Physicists Seek the Question to Which the Universe is the Answer
If there is a directionality in the universe, Professor Webb argues, and if electromagnetism is shown to be very slightly different in certain regions of the cosmos, the most fundamental concepts underpinning much of modern physics will need revision.
Our standard model of cosmology is based on an isotropic universe, one that is the same, statistically, in all directions, he says. That standard model itself is built upon Einsteins theory of gravity, which itself explicitly assumes constancy of the laws of Nature. If such fundamental principles turn out to be only good approximations, the doors are open to some very exciting, new ideas in physics.
Webbs team believe this is the first step towards a far larger study exploring many directions in the universe, using data coming from new instruments on the worlds largest telescopes. New technologies are now emerging to provide higher quality data, and new artificial intelligence analysis methods will help to automate measurements and carry them out more rapidly and with greater precision.
Sources: Michael R. Wilczynska et al. Four direct measurements of the fine-structure constant 13 billion years ago, Science Advances (2020). DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.aay9672. K. Migkas et al. Probing cosmic isotropy with a new X-ray galaxy cluster sample through the LXT scaling relation, Astronomy & Astrophysics (2020). DOI: 10.1051/0004-6361/201936602
The Daily Galaxy, Max Goldberg, via University of New South Wales
- Security Inspection Equipment Market to witness Massive Growth by 2025 - Bulletin Line - August 1st, 2020
- The universe is nearly 10 percent more homogeneous than expected - Tech Explorist - August 1st, 2020
- Differences between discs of active and non-active galaxies detected for the first time - Science Codex - August 1st, 2020
- Megaripple Migration Offers Insights into Martian Atmosphere - Eos - August 1st, 2020
- Football Stadium-Sized Balloon To Carry NASA's Cutting-Edge Astrophysics Observations Telescope To Stratosphere - Swarajya - July 31st, 2020
- Cosmic tango between the very small and the very large - ScienceBlog.com - July 31st, 2020
- Oldest surviving light reveals the universe's true age - Space.com - July 31st, 2020
- Top 5 Stargazing Sites in the DMV Region (Your Backyard Is the 6th!) - Our Community Now at Colorado - July 31st, 2020
- Russia Accused Of Firing Anti-Satellite Weapon From One Of Its Satellites In Space - Forbes - July 31st, 2020
- Astrophysics Black holes had been created initially of all the things they usually had been partly light-bringers - Pledge Times - July 31st, 2020
- What is Astrophysics? | Space - July 31st, 2020
- Astrophysics - Wikipedia - July 31st, 2020
- NASA Astrophysics | Science Mission Directorate - July 31st, 2020
- Astro-Physics - Buy Telescopes - July 31st, 2020
- We might have dozens of contactable Alien neighbors - SBS - July 31st, 2020
- Astrophysicist Adam Burrows wins international prize for brown dwarf and exoplanet research - Princeton University - July 29th, 2020
- NASA Is Blasting Just the Biggest Balloon Into the Stratosphere - Popular Mechanics - July 29th, 2020
- Cosmic background light confirms the age of the universe - THE WEEK - July 29th, 2020
- NA62 experiment at CERN reports first evidence for ultra-rare process that could lead to new physics - University of Birmingham - July 29th, 2020
- Assembly begins on worlds largest nuclear fusion reactor - Gephardt Daily - July 29th, 2020
- Here's what would happen if a wormhole fought a black hole - The Next Web - July 29th, 2020
- LOOKING BACK AT OUR HISTORY: A conversation with Carl Sagan, part I - newportri.com - July 29th, 2020
- NASA will send a balloon the size of a football field into the sky in the near future - Time Out - July 29th, 2020
- ESA's Trace Gas Orbiter Detects Ozone and Carbon Dioxide in Atmosphere of Mars | Planetary Science, Space Exploration - Sci-News.com - July 29th, 2020
- Explained: The Idea Of An Observatory On The Moon To Detect Gravitational Waves - Swarajya - July 29th, 2020
- Answers About Universes Age Could Be Found in the Dark - ScienceBlog.com - July 28th, 2020
- Happy Birthday, Sandra Bullock; Here are her 10 best movies - AL.com - July 28th, 2020
- 'How to Die in Space' explores the dangers of astrophysics - Space.com - July 27th, 2020
- According to Globular Clusters, the Universe is 13.35 Billion Years Old - Universe Today - July 27th, 2020
- Puzzling and Surprising New Gas Signatures Discovered by ExoMars Orbiter in the Martian Atmosphere - SciTechDaily - July 27th, 2020
- Astrophysics created the largest 3D map of the Universe to date - Tech Explorist - July 26th, 2020
- Answers About Universe's Age Could Be Found in the Dark - UPJ Athletics - July 26th, 2020
- Groundbreaking study of binary star evolution is focus of new NSF grant - RIT News - July 26th, 2020
- STARMUS VI: The world-renowed festival will be dedicated to Mars in 2 - Astronomy Magazine - July 26th, 2020
- NASA Jupiter probe images huge moon Ganymede like never before (photos) - Space.com - July 26th, 2020
- Check It Out: These eight books will have you starstruck - The Columbian - July 26th, 2020
- UR #23: Investigating the Stellar Activity of FGK Dwarfs in the Dharma Planet Survey - Astrobites - July 22nd, 2020
- How old are we? Debate over the age of the universe just got a bit more complicated - CBC.ca - July 22nd, 2020
- STARMUS Returns: The world-renowned festival supported by Stephen Hawking, Brian May and Alexei Leonov announces a landmark event dedicated to Mars in... - July 22nd, 2020
- Book excerpt: 'How to Die in Space' on the beauty and danger of nebulas - Space.com - July 22nd, 2020
- Section Head, Nuclear Science & Advanced Technology in Oak Ridge, TN for Oak Ridge National Laboratory - Physics - July 22nd, 2020
- Burst of gamma rays from 10 billion light years away offers glimpse into the early universe - The Next Web - July 22nd, 2020
- Scientists: mini-neptunes could be planets that have oceans of water - FREE NEWS - July 22nd, 2020
- New view of old light adds twist to debate over universes age - EarthSky - July 22nd, 2020
- Security Screening Market Size, Growth Analysis by Key Manufacturers, Regions, Types and Applications, Forecast 20202026| Leidos, Nuctech, OSI... - July 22nd, 2020
- Here's why today's Google Doodle is celebrating the Turkish astrophysicist Dilhan Eryurt - Morpeth Herald - July 22nd, 2020
- A new rover to land on Mars - ScienceBlog.com - July 22nd, 2020
- Exploring the Fundamental Mysteries of the Universe by Seeing the Invisible - SciTechDaily - July 22nd, 2020
- How Galaxies Die: New Insights Into Galaxy Halos, Black Holes, and Quenching of Star Formation - SciTechDaily - July 22nd, 2020
- Spacewatch: Black holes, comets and key dates - Cosmos - July 22nd, 2020
- An open letter to Australia's Education Minister Dan Tehan signed by 73 senior professors - The Conversation AU - July 22nd, 2020
- Texas Tech astrophysics researcher has projects approved with Hubble Space Telescope - LubbockOnline.com - July 21st, 2020
- Fresh Twist to Debate Over Universes Age From New View of the Oldest Light in the Universe - SciTechDaily - July 21st, 2020
- Nvidia And University Of Florida Supercharge Education With AI Supercomputer - Forbes - July 21st, 2020
- Here's why today's Google Doodle is celebrating the Turkish astrophysicist Dilhan Eryurt - Yorkshire Post - July 21st, 2020
- UChicago scientists reflect on need to address racism, inequality - UChicago News - July 20th, 2020
- Comet NEOWISE: How to See It in Night Skies - The New York Times - July 20th, 2020
- Comet Neowise: How To See It On Long Island - Patchogue, NY Patch - July 20th, 2020
- Ghostly Particles from the Sun Confirm Nuclear Fusion - Eos - July 20th, 2020
- Trending Today Corona impact on X-Ray Screening System Market 2020-2025, Studied in Detail along with Top Companies as- ADANI, Smiths Detection,... - July 20th, 2020
- Spectacular sight: 5 planets together appeared in Karachi at midnight - The News International - July 20th, 2020
- COVID-19 in Fall 2020: A Concerning Situation for Students - Astrobites - July 20th, 2020
- Buried Monsters of the Early Universe Unveiled By the Deepest X-Ray Image Ever Taken - The Daily Galaxy --Great Discoveries Channel - July 19th, 2020
- Dying Stars and Stellar Winds Breathe Life Into Earth - SciTechDaily - July 19th, 2020
- Spectacular sight of five planets together to be seen in Karachi at midnight - Geo News - July 19th, 2020
- Solar Orbiter Captures Closest Images of the Sun; Reveals Presence of Millions of 'Campfires' - The Weather Channel - July 19th, 2020
- New study of oldest light confirms age of the universe Tunis Daily News - Tdnews - July 18th, 2020
- A website by science enthusiasts gains traction during the lockdown - The Hindu - July 18th, 2020
- New view of oldest light adds a twist to debate over the Universe's Age - Devdiscourse - July 18th, 2020
- Closest images of the Sun to date show campfires on surface - MLive.com - July 18th, 2020
- NASA wants your help identifying the birthplaces of planets - Yahoo! Voices - July 18th, 2020
- St. Mike's reaches for the stars to fill Sutton Family Chair - The Catholic Register - July 18th, 2020
- Vital Clues to Unsolved Mysteries in Astrophysics Including Expansion of the Universe From Colliding Neutron Stars - SciTechDaily - July 15th, 2020
- Astronomers witness 'teenage' years of our universe in explosion - Gwinnettdailypost.com - July 15th, 2020
- Once-in-a-lifetime comet will be visible over New England this month, astronomers say - The Boston Globe - July 15th, 2020
- 'Disk Detective' Needs Your Help Finding Disks Where Planets Form - Jet Propulsion Laboratory - July 15th, 2020
- Predicting fate of planetary systems, AI solves calculations that astronomers since Newton have struggled with - DNA India - July 15th, 2020
- Study: Dying stars breathe life into Earth - The Hub at Johns Hopkins - July 14th, 2020
- A forty-year-old puzzle about the stars is solved - The Hindu - July 14th, 2020
- Space has a diversity problem and big institutions like universities can do something about it - Space.com - July 14th, 2020