The laws of physics vary in different parts of the universe, according to new evidence uncovered by a team of Australian and British astrophysicists.
The report of the discovery submitted for publication in the journal Physical Review Letters describes how the "magic number" known as the fine-structure constant - dubbed alpha for short - appears to vary throughout the universe, says the team from UNSW, Swinburne University of Technology and the University of Cambridge. The work is currently under peer review (a preliminary version is available here).
"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," says Professor John Webb of the UNSW School of Physics.
"The implications for our current understanding of science are profound. If the laws of physics turn out to be merely "local by-laws", it might be that whilst our observable part of the universe favours the existence of life and human beings, other far more distant regions may exist where different laws preclude the formation of life, at least as we know it.
"If our results are correct, clearly we shall need new physical theories to satisfactorily describe them," says Professor Webb.
The researchers' conclusions are based on new measurements taken with the Very Large Telescope in Chile, along with their previous measurements from the world's largest optical telescopes at the Keck Observatory, in Hawaii.
Read the full story at the Faculty of Science newsroom.
Media contact: Professor John Webb