Wednesday, September 15, 2010

An Ever-Changing Universe

A few weeks ago, news came out that some constants of Nature were not always the same across different regions of the Cosmos. Apparently, the fine-structure constant--a number that is written into the very behavior of atoms, actually changes!

The variability of this "constant" violates Einstein's equivalence principle, a fundamental tenet of physics that says that the constants of nature must remain the same no matter where or when in the universe.

A team of scientists found that the fine-structure constant appeared to have been smaller in one part of the universe--but larger in another, billions of years ago.

Upon hearing of this, I was dumbstruck. Sure, the universe changed as the fundamental forces of nature fragmented from one single unified force. But I thought that after everything has "unfurled" and settled on to this state that we are familiar with--that was it. As everything settled down, every constant of nature must then be, well...constant!

Or so it seemed.

Again and again, the things i’ve known may be wrong all along. I had to unlearn the familiar concept of a homogenous and isotropic universe.

And if found to be true, a variable fine-structure "constant" has big ramifications to many deeper things that may not seem apparent in our mundane way of life.

And I could not grasp it at all. The symmetry-breaking concept of different realities in different regions of the universe hovered in my mind for several days. I wrote a short story entitled "Phase Change" to help me make sense of this finding, to try to get a glimpse of what it could mean to me personally, and eventually to a wider scope of things.

In the process, my story ended up hinting at a speculative answer to Fermi’s Paradox. Perhaps, an ever-changing universe could be one reason why civilizations never get the chance to come in contact with other civilizations. A universe that has different properties at different times in different regions could pose an “isolation” problem for regional inhabitants.

My story also indirectly refers to the concept of the Phase Transition in the early universe, where the force(s) of nature were still fragmenting. Perhaps the changing values of the fine-structure is an indicator of a weaker form of "Phase Transition" that may still be occuring in many other regions of the universe.

What does it all mean? Well, only then did i realize that it was so simple. Ours is truly an ever-changing universe. And the cliche remains ever so true: Nothing is permanent, except change itself.

Phase Change (The Short Story)
When Fundamental Constants Change
Was Einstein Wrong?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

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