Date: September 07, 2021 12:23AM
"IT IS a well-kept secret, but we know the answer to life, the universe and everything. It’s not 42 – it’s 1/137.
This immutable number determines how stars burn, how chemistry happens and even whether atoms exist at all. Physicist Richard Feynman, who knew a thing or two about it, called it “one of the greatest damn mysteries of physics: a magic number that comes to us with no understanding”.
Now its mystery is deepening. Controversial hints suggest this number might not be the universal constant we had assumed, instead varying subtly over time and space. If confirmed, that would have profound consequences for our understanding of physics, forcing us to reconsider basic assumptions about the structure of reality. While arguments about the true significance of the findings rage, experiments looking both deep into the cosmos and at the fine-grained structure of reality in the lab are now set to deliver a definitive verdict – perhaps.
The idea that constants of nature – things like the speed of light, strength of forces and the masses of various particles – might not be so constant has an illustrious history. In 1937, physicist Paul Dirac wrote to the journal Nature, questioning astronomer Arthur Eddington’s attempts to calculate the constants from scratch. How could we be sure they haven’t changed over cosmological time?
The fine structure constant, also known as alpha, is a case in point. Alpha lies at the centre of a theory Dirac initiated and Feynman worked on: quantum electrodynamics, or QED. This is the quantum theory of the electromagnetic force, and describes the interactions between light and matter. Alpha determines their strength. It is itself constructed from the speed of light, the electron’s charge, pi – few physical theories are complete without pi – and a couple of other fundamental constants, carefully arranged so that it is just a pure number, independent of human influence: 0.00729735, just a whisker away from 1/137.
Change this number by a smidgen, and you change the universe. Increase it too much, and protons repel each other so strongly that small atomic nuclei can’t hold together. Go a bit further and nuclear fusion factories within stars grind to a halt and can no longer produce carbon, the element on which life is based. Make alpha much smaller, and molecular bonds fall apart at lower temperatures, altering many processes essential to life."https://www.newscientist.com/article/mg24031982-200-theres-a-glitch-at-the-edge-of-the-universe-that-could-remake-physics/#ixzz75kWw5rJc