Scientists have found evidence that a basic physical constant used to measure electromagnetism between charged particles may actually be earlier in theconstant, based on measurements from a quasar about 13 billion light years away.
Electromagnetism is one of the four fundamental forces that link everything in our universe together with gravity, weak nuclear power, and strong nuclear power. The strength of the electromagnetic interaction between elementary particles is calculated using the so-called fine structure constant.
However, the new metrics – along with other metrics from separate studies – indicate tiny deviations in this constant that could have a huge impact on how we understand everything around us.
The latest data also shows that the universe may have had previously hidden north and south camps, a definite direction in which these variations in electromagnetism can be mapped.
“But there could actually be a direction or preferred direction in the universe in which the laws of physics change, but not in a vertical direction. In other words, the universe has a dipole structure in a sense.”
The electromagnetic force that surrounds us plays a crucial role in binding electrons to nuclei within atoms – without them, matter would simply dissolve. It provides us with visible light and is the main reason why electricity works the way it works.
Using images and data taken with the Very Large Telescope (VLT) in Chile, the research team was able to measure this force as it would have occurred in the universe when it was much younger and closer to its beginnings.
The data needs to be further tested and verified, but the team says that the current results raise a strange question: whether the idea that there is a balance between the fundamental powers of goldilocks – just perfect for life to exist – actually in ours entire country applies universe.
“When you summarize all the data, electromagnetism seems to gradually increase the further we look as it gradually decreases in the opposite direction,” says Webb.
“In other directions in the cosmos, the fine structure constant remains exactly this constant. These new, very distant measurements have driven our observations further than ever before.”
This idea of directionality in the universe was supported by researchers who work independently in the United States and are deeply concerned with the nature of X-rays. They have also found a cosmic alignment that shows the same way that the UNSW team discovered.
What this means for physics in a broader sense is too early. The results are worth at least one more investigation and mean that the Grand Unified Theory – the search for a unifying force that can bind electromagnetism, weak and strong nuclear forces together – may even have to be put on hold for a while.
In fact, research published last year suggests that a fifth fundamental force may need to be considered. The further we look into the universe and the more we discover, the more complex and strange everything seems to be.
“Our standard model of cosmology is based on an isotropic universe that is statistically the same in all directions,” says Webb. “This standard model itself is based on Einstein’s theory of gravitation, which itself explicitly presupposes the constancy of the laws of nature.”
“If such basic principles only turn out to be good approximations, the doors are open to some very exciting new ideas in physics.”
The research was published in Advances in science.