[Paleopsych] Guardian: Why Einstein may have got it wrong
checker at panix.com
Sun Apr 17 16:56:57 UTC 2005
Why Einstein may have got it wrong
David Adam, science correspondent
Monday April 11, 2005
A century after Albert Einstein published his most famous ideas,
physicists will today commemorate the occasion by trying to demolish
one of them.
Astronomers will tell experts gathering at Warwick University to
celebrate the anniversary of the great man's "miracle year" that the
speed of light - Einstein's unchanging yardstick that underpins his
special theory of relativity - might be slowing down.
Michael Murphy, of the Institute of Astronomy at Cambridge University,
said: "We are claiming something extraordinary here. The findings
suggest there is a more fundamental theory of the way that light and
matter interact; and that special relativity, at its foundation, is
Einstein's insistence that the speed of light was always the same set
up many of his big ideas and established the bedrock of modern
Dr Murphy said: "It could turn out that special relativity is a very
good approximation but it's missing a little bit. That little bit may
be the doorknob to a whole new universe and a whole new set of
fundamental laws." His team did not measure a change in the speed of
light directly. Instead, they analysed flickering light from the
far-distant celestial objects called quasars.
Their light takes billions of years to travel to Earth, letting
astronomers see the fundamental laws of the universe at work during
its earliest days. The observations, from the massive Keck telescope
in Hawaii, suggest the way certain wavelengths of light are absorbed
If true, it means that something called the fine structure constant -
a measure of the strength of electromagnetic force that holds atoms
together - has changed by about 0.001% since the big bang. The speed
of light depends on the fine structure constant. If one varies with
time then the other probably does too, meaning Einstein got it wrong.
If light moved faster in the early universe than now, physicists would
have to rethink many fundamental theories. His conclusions are based
on work carried out in 2001 with John Webb at the University of New
South Wales in Sydney. Other astronomers disputed the findings, and a
smaller study using a different telescope last year suggested no
Dr Murphy's team is analysing the results from the largest experiment
so far, using light from 143 bright stellar objects. Einstein's burst
of creativity in 1905 stunned his contemporaries. He published three
papers that changed the way scientists viewed the world, including the
special theory of relativity that led to his deduction E=mc².
The Physics2005 conference, set up by the Institute of Physics as part
of its Einstein Year initiative, runs until Thursday.
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