Distant Quasars Show That Fundamental Constants Never Change
“From a physics perspective, it’s long been assumed that the fundamental constants and the laws of nature really are the same everywhere and at all times. However, one particular dimensionless constant, α, the ratio between the electric charge, the speed of light and the Planck constant, has been shown by a number of previous studies to show variations both the farther back in time we look and at different locations on the sky. However, new observations by a team working at Arecibo observatory, of the quasar PKS 1413+135, have placed a very tight constraint on the time variations, casting doubt on the previous findings. To only 1.3 parts in a million, the fundamental constant α once again appears to be truly constant.”
We assume that the fundamental constants are truly constant, but they don’t have to be. The speed of light is the same everywhere, but it could have been different elsewhere, either in space or in time. The same is true for other constants, like Planck’s constant, the gravitational constant, or even the fundamental charges or masses of particles. You might not think it’s likely, but the evidence indicated otherwise. Over the past 20 years, time variations and spatial variations in the fine structure constant, which determines the force of the electromagnetic coupling, have been observed to about 5 parts in a million in different locations and at different distances. It was a disputed but intriguing finding, but new evidence was just released conflicting with those results. Instead, the fundamental constant, α, once again appears to be truly constant, to better than 1.3 parts in a million, thanks to the new results from Arecibo.