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Fundamental Constant Possibly Inconsistent

Zonk posted more than 8 years ago | from the those-wacky-constants dept.

317

dylanduck writes "Cosmologists have begun thinking that yet another fundamental constant of nature is, er, not constant. The constant in question is the ratio of a proton's mass to that of an electron. It governs the strong nuclear force but there's no explanation for why that ratio should be constant. If true it would provide support for string theory, which predicts extra spatial dimensions." From the article: "Researchers at the Free University in Amsterdam in the Netherlands and the European Southern Observatory in Chile discovered the variation in mu. They did it by comparing the spectrum of molecular hydrogen gas in the laboratory to what it was in quasars 12 billion light years away. The spectrum depends on the relative masses of protons and electrons in the molecule."

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317 comments

Perhaps their instruments are wrong (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15174416)

and need some adjusting.

Thus proving once and for all (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15174423)

...that God is a woman.

Re:Thus proving once and for all (2, Funny)

firl (907479) | more than 8 years ago | (#15174758)

Is that because women aren't constant?

Re:Thus proving once and for all (3, Funny)

UnknownSoldier (67820) | more than 8 years ago | (#15174856)

If they constantly aren't constant, does that make them constant? ;-)

--
Constants aren't.
Variables are.
  - Murphy's (Computer) Law

Re:Thus proving once and for all (2, Funny)

Quaoar (614366) | more than 8 years ago | (#15174854)

Well both the electron and the proton look an awful lot like periods...

Electron Constants not Constant??!! (3, Funny)

FreezerJam (138643) | more than 8 years ago | (#15174434)

Haven't I heard that one before?

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0089869/ [imdb.com]

Ob. Farnsworth quote (4, Funny)

dc29A (636871) | more than 8 years ago | (#15174448)

Farnsworth: These are the dark matter engine I invented. They allow my starship to travel between galaxies in mere hours.

Cubert: That's impossible. You can't go faster than the speed of light.

Farnsworth: Of course not. That's why scientists increased the speed of light in 2208.

Re:Ob. Farnsworth quote (1)

visgoth (613861) | more than 8 years ago | (#15174665)

Hogwash! The professor is obviously senile, as the ship cannot ever go faster than light, since the ship itself never moves. The Dark Matter Engine [wikipedia.org] moves the entire universe around the ship.

Re:Electron Constants not Constant??!! (2, Interesting)

FreezerJam (138643) | more than 8 years ago | (#15174474)

...maybe http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Quiet_Earth [wikipedia.org] is more informative.

(not in the habit of checking Wikipedia for movie details ... hmm)

Re:Electron Constants not Constant??!! (1)

LiquidCoooled (634315) | more than 8 years ago | (#15174772)

It certainly is more presentable.
I hate the way imdb links don't name the film in question.
Even if it was some parameter like http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0089869?TheQuietEarth [imdb.com] would be better

Questionable (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15174443)

I'm glad they're doing this research, but I would assume the quazar is moving away from them. How easy is it for them to take this into account? How can they take this into account? Are they different only because of experimental error?

Re:Questionable (1)

PiMuNu (865592) | more than 8 years ago | (#15174553)

Usually they compare it with other lines in the Hydrogen spectrum. I can't get to the details of the paper, but I suspect that they are comparing the redshift of two different lines and checking that they are the same. If they are different something weird is going on.

Yeah, some people struggle with Heisenberg. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15174461)

Anyone with even a passing familiarity with Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principal would have known this years ago. Its hard to believe that people in this field can be so dense.

Come on guys. Go back to school. Spend a little more time reading your texbooks, and get your act together.

This has nothing to do with Heisenberg... (1)

unterderbrucke (628741) | more than 8 years ago | (#15174546)

...Heisenberg deals with momentum and velocity, and by implication energy.

Apparently, the meaning of "constant" (5, Funny)

Snarfangel (203258) | more than 8 years ago | (#15174469)

...isn't constant, either. Perhaps we can rename them "fundamental variables."

Re:Apparently, the meaning of "constant" (3, Funny)

fireboy1919 (257783) | more than 8 years ago | (#15174587)

No, constant is good. It's just that for very large or small values of the constant, it's sometimes different.

1!=2 is, for example, always true, except for with very small values of 2 or very large values of 1. Possibly you need both small values of 2 and large values of 1.

Re:Apparently, the meaning of "constant" (1)

Rakshasa Taisab (244699) | more than 8 years ago | (#15174597)

Urgh... that will mess up optimization.

Re:Apparently, the meaning of "constant" (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15174771)

Constants are never *really* constant. For some gentoo fun, #define M_PI 3 in /usr/include/math.h and see what happens after an emerge world.

Re:Apparently, the meaning of "constant" (1, Funny)

Bravoc (771258) | more than 8 years ago | (#15174926)

Seems to me, that since these occour naturally in our environment, we should call them..... environment variables Sorry, I couldn't resist

Re:Apparently, the meaning of "constant" (1)

hunterx11 (778171) | more than 8 years ago | (#15174929)

Constant is constant of course, but it depends on what your definition of the word "is" is.

Hang on a second... (3, Insightful)

iainl (136759) | more than 8 years ago | (#15174480)

...if the ratio is changing, doesn't that mean that either electrons or protons (probably both) have changed mass?

How the hell does that work?

Re:Hang on a second... (1)

Opportunist (166417) | more than 8 years ago | (#15174520)

It just means the Proton should probably cut back on fast food. It sure as hell changed my mass considerably!

Re:Hang on a second... (5, Interesting)

PiMuNu (865592) | more than 8 years ago | (#15174622)

Don't forget the proton is a composite of quarks. So the mass of the proton is a function of the mass of the quarks and the binding energy. A hack but E=mc^2, so m(proton) = m(quarks) - (binding energy)/c^2. The binding energy changes if the strengths of the forces that bind it change. This means that a change in the electromagnetic force (e.g. changing alpha fine structure constant) or the strong force will change the mass also. Of course, the mass of the electrons or quarks could have changed as well :P

Re:Hang on a second... (2, Funny)

Himring (646324) | more than 8 years ago | (#15174939)

How does this affect 88MPH and the need for 1.21 jiggawatts?....

Re:Hang on a second... (1)

PiMuNu (865592) | more than 8 years ago | (#15174982)

Well you have to go back in time a couple of billion years before it has any effect...

The Dawn of Quantish Physics ? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15174482)

E=MC^2 +/- 20%

Re:The Dawn of Quantish Physics ? (4, Funny)

adavies42 (746183) | more than 8 years ago | (#15174759)

I prefer the engineers' version: E=mc^2 +/- 3dB

Blah Blah Blah Scientist Words (0, Offtopic)

Dinglenuts (691550) | more than 8 years ago | (#15174486)

Oof I am unable to comprehend a single sentence of this article. Blasted hangovers.

Could we show 'New Scientist' more prominently? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15174491)

Grr. I don't mind RTFA, but I like to know what I'm getting into... :)

See, neutrino's having a rest mass - that was a story. A somewhat reproduced result even - call it science. :)

"If true" (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15174492)

Yeah! Any inconsistency will always provide support for the string theory. Why? Because the essence of that fabulous theory is that everything is more or less random. Great!

Does this mean (2, Funny)

LoonyMike (917095) | more than 8 years ago | (#15174505)

that I face the risk that the first 100 digits of PI that I have memorized could change, and the knowledge becomes useless?

This is actually true, I do know the first 100 digits by heart.

Re:Does this mean (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15174578)

... As long as 4 * Sum from n=1 to n=infinity of -1^(n-1)/(2n-1) doesn't change, I think you're all right...

Re:Does this mean (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15174657)

And yet you have no idea where the clitoris is.

Re:Does this mean (4, Interesting)

maxwell demon (590494) | more than 8 years ago | (#15174847)

that I face the risk that the first 100 digits of PI that I have memorized could change, and the knowledge becomes useless?

Well, that was true since Einstein: The value of pi as you learned it is only valid in Euklidean (flat) space, and our space is Riemannian (curved). However, to your relieve, the Riemannian space is locally Euclidean, so if you restrict yourself to a small enough volume, your 100 digits are accurate again. Unless you get into trouble with quantum physics (I'm now too lazy to calculate if you could get 100 digits of pi right on Earth without getting close to the Planck length).

Intelligent Design? (3, Interesting)

RSquaredW (969317) | more than 8 years ago | (#15174507)

Hmm, wasn't one of the arguments for intelligent design that the fundamental constants had to be "just right" for the universe to exist? If the shifts of other dimensions causes shifts in our universal constants...another nail in the necessity-of-God argument's coffin?

String theory makes my head hurt.

Re:Intelligent Design? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15174570)

Just because you develop finer methods of measurement as technology progresses, and you find that you can now calculate a constant that was before _KNOWN_, to a certain level of finite precision, at a higher level of finite precision, does not mean that the constant has changed. It just means you have refined your methods of measurement.

Re:Intelligent Design? (1)

bw_bur (634734) | more than 8 years ago | (#15174809)

Obviously I haven't RTFA, but even a cursory glance through the summary reveals that this is not what has happened here. The claim is not that the value of the constant has been determined more accurately, but that it is not constant at all. The value itself has changed, not just the accuracy to which we are able to measure it.

Re:Intelligent Design? (0, Flamebait)

dc29A (636871) | more than 8 years ago | (#15174584)

Hmm, wasn't one of the arguments for intelligent design that the fundamental constants had to be "just right" for the universe to exist? If the shifts of other dimensions causes shifts in our universal constants...another nail in the necessity-of-God argument's coffin?

Won't religious fanatics just say that God is testing their faith? Or, that God is currently changing the universe, and infact that is a proof that God does exist? Faith for quite a few people is much stronger than logical reason.

Re:Intelligent Design? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15174600)

Truly a testament to His greatness that even with a change in a cosmological constant we are still alive at all.

Re:Intelligent Design? (2, Insightful)

Straif (172656) | more than 8 years ago | (#15174602)

I saw the argument coming but I was really hoping no one would bring ID/Evo into this.

However I was seeing the case from the other side as 'proof' that if such fundemental scientific principles can be shown to be inaccurate, how much 'faith' can we have in the theory of Evolution which is laregely based on much less demonstrable certainties that the fields of physics and math.

Either way, I say just screw it and wait till you're dead. It's the only way to know who's right for sure anyway.

Re:Intelligent Design? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15174938)

Hard way to find out buddy.

Re:Intelligent Design? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15174666)

Perhaps even the laws of physics in the universe as we know it are subject to evolutionary mechanisms. Who knows!

The reason everything "just works" is just that. The ones that didn't do not exist.

Re:Intelligent Design? (O/T) (1)

bill_kress (99356) | more than 8 years ago | (#15174714)

You can't fight that argument with any type of logic. These transient "Arguments" disapear and they make up others. The arguments do not have to withstand any scrutany and just have to sound good to "Believers".

The concept of "Faith" was a magnificant and powerful creation--a tool that can allow a few people to control millions--and I'd like to meet the amazingly talented P/R man who figured out how to tag such a horrid, evil concept as "Good".

Question Everything.

Re:Intelligent Design? (1)

Tiger4 (840741) | more than 8 years ago | (#15174719)

"wasn't one of the arguments for intelligent design that the fundamental constants had to be "just right" for the universe to exist?"

I think not... *POOF!*

Re:Intelligent Design? (1)

Chicken04GTO (957041) | more than 8 years ago | (#15174729)

Maybe it doesn't mean anything. Maybe the calculations are off. Maybe the constant is changing. We are still here, so obviously it doesn't matter *that* much. But im sure people who are extremists on both sides of the ID fence will somehow word it in such a way to support their own fanatical viewpoints.

Re:Intelligent Design? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15174739)

God uses a Mac running OS 10.4, so all the variables are hidden by the operating system.

(He switched from Linux on the 3rd day, because he was torn between vi and emacs, plus he wanted a GUI that was not KDE while he was populating the earth.)

Re:Intelligent Design? (1)

zbyte64 (720193) | more than 8 years ago | (#15174803)

No. In fact certain ID scientists do believe that certain constants were different about 4000 years ago. This has to do with the helium diffusion rates in zircon crystals and some other junk RATE project [answersincreation.org] . Granted its a different constant, but it does mean that ID scientists aren't opposed to "constants" being changed. Now I don't really like their explanation as to how this happened (enter hand of God) but it does show some dating inconsitiencies (that greatly exceed error margins). But what really gets me is you're throwing around ideas without having any clue... I suppose thats /. for you.

Hmm... (2, Interesting)

PiMuNu (865592) | more than 8 years ago | (#15174530)

It's interesting that they think the ratio effects the strong force. Electrons don't see the strong force, so I'm not sure that this is true - anyone know any better?

The result is accurate to 3.5 sigma - so (possibly) good to about 95 %. Based on a new model of H2 molecule, not sure how well verified it is. I suspect any fool could make any non-standard model measurement fit with string theory so I wouldn't read too much into that.

Re:Hmm... (1)

bw_bur (634734) | more than 8 years ago | (#15174964)

Maybe they just got it backwards in the article. Perhaps they should have said that a change in the value of mu implies a change in the strong force (assuming that the change in the mass ratio is due to a corresponding change in the binding energy of the proton).

Are the laws of physics changing themselves ? (2, Insightful)

karvind (833059) | more than 8 years ago | (#15174545)

Being an amature scientist (engineer by profession) I always wonder why the laws in physics be constant as well ? Never got any satisfactory (and comprehensible) answer yet. To certain extent, it is equally important as 'changing' constants as well.

Also I would like to know little more about the error analysis here. A claim like 0.002% should be carefully checked to make sure about the measurement limitations etc.

Readers are directed to another good article [swin.edu.au] (not flooded with scientific jargon).

Re:Are the laws of physics changing themselves ? (1)

NeutronCowboy (896098) | more than 8 years ago | (#15174891)

It is assumed the laws of physics don't change because.... well, if they did, we'd be in a heap of trouble. :) This is really one of the more fundamental assumptions in science in general: if we don't see that something changes or has changed, we assume that it won't. Especially when it comes to physics. However, it is an assumption. It'll be an interesting day if we ever find out that they do change...

Re:Are the laws of physics changing themselves ? (2, Insightful)

Hatta (162192) | more than 8 years ago | (#15174922)

Being an amature scientist (engineer by profession) I always wonder why the laws in physics be constant as well ?

If the laws of physics are changing, there must be some law governing this change. If that law is changing there must be some other law governing that change. At some point it has to stop.

In other news.. (4, Funny)

Mechcommander (784124) | more than 8 years ago | (#15174554)

Pi = 3.

Re:In other news.. (1)

tehshen (794722) | more than 8 years ago | (#15174647)

That's a very rational idea

Re:In other news.. (1)

vux984 (928602) | more than 8 years ago | (#15174736)

That's a very rational idea

Not merely rational, its integral to the new world order...

Re:In other news.. (1)

nharmon (97591) | more than 8 years ago | (#15174843)

Which makes it real to all of us.

Re:In other news.. (1)

vux984 (928602) | more than 8 years ago | (#15174933)

Naturally. :p

Re:In other news.. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15174769)

I prefer 22/7, myself.

Re:In other news.. (2, Funny)

frdmfghtr (603968) | more than 8 years ago | (#15174726)

Pi = 3.

Maybe where you come from, but in California, it is 3.

Recent discoveries in the legal profession have left scientists, many of whom still linger romantically in the Newtonian world, scrambling to catch up in the field of New Causality. In a case last month, a judge in Sacramento ruled in favor of changing the value of pi, thus acquitting a tire manufacturer of making tires that were not fully round. An appeal by scientists was thrown out for lack of evidence when the small courtroom could not physically accommodate a fully expressed representation of pi. The oblong tires in question were produced at the retrial, the judge said they looked round to him, the defense played the race card, and the value of pi was changed to 2.0.


From "Studies in the New Causality" by Steve Martin, http://www.compleatsteve.com/essays/causality.htm [compleatsteve.com]

Provides evidence for string theory? (4, Interesting)

davidoff404 (764733) | more than 8 years ago | (#15174561)

Where the hell did they get that from? String theory is fully compatible with the idea that the constants in nature are actually constant. After all, string theory has been developed to fit the data and nobody has been able to provide any evidence that this is not the case in the real world. On the contrary, changing fundamental constants would require more finessing of string theory in order to fit the data.

And yes, before you start, I know what I'm talking about.

Re:Provides evidence for string theory? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15174644)

I think a bigger issue is that ANYTHING can be compatible with string theory. Kinda like anything can be compatible with "GOD CREATED IT THIS WAY".

What I'd like to see is -negative- evidense (or at least a possibility of a disproving test).

Re:Provides evidence for string theory? (2, Informative)

davidoff404 (764733) | more than 8 years ago | (#15174676)

I think a bigger issue is that ANYTHING can be compatible with string theory.

This isn't even remotely correct. The easiest way to see this is to consider bosonic string theory and look at the manner in which the Virasoro algebra constrains physical states. It most certainly does not allow anything to be true. Quite the opposite in fact, it places heavy constraints on what is and is not allowed in a consistent string theory.

Re:Provides evidence for string theory? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15174682)

OK... That's nice... I actually know what I'm talking about.

If we live in a multi-dimensional universe, different dimensions can grow at different rates. Such that the area of the universe which we live in has a more predominant parallel universe and thus changing the fundamental "constants" as it grows.

And by the way... String Threory is a bunch of guesses anyway. You can make it fit anything you imagine by changing it around a bit, but it still cannot predict anything in nature. String Theory (although it may be correct) is extremely overrated.

Thank you, come again.

Hmmm... don't jump to believe this... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15174563)

When something is billions of light years away, it will be moving away from us rather quickly. I highly doubt it is possible to detect a 0.002% difference, as it would be too difficult to tell what change is due to its moving away, versus what change is due to the change in mass.

This is the type of knowledge to query in the back of your head until someday in the future when a theoretical physicist calculates that billions of years ago, the difference in mu should be approximately 0.00195%

Problem of Induction (0, Offtopic)

abscissa (136568) | more than 8 years ago | (#15174564)

According to the problem of induction (see Wikipedia [wikipedia.org] we can never be sure about anything no matter how many times we observe it. For example, no matter how many times I observe that I am burned when I touch a candle flame, I cannot be 100% certain that if I go to China in a month and touch a candle flame there, I will be burned by it. Solving this seeming impossibility is a major problem in philosophy and science.

This idea always seemed really silly to me. And beleieve it or not, I took an entire advanced level course on it in University. The entire reading for the half-year course was 80 pages.

However, in light of this article, it makes a bit more sense now. Universal "constants" may not be constant after all, but John Stewart Mill could have told us this ages ago :-)

Grue and Bleen (1)

spun (1352) | more than 8 years ago | (#15174684)

Didn't they talk about Grue [wikipedia.org] and Bleen [wikipedia.org] in your course? That explains it at least as well as varying fundemental constants.

Re:Grue and Bleen (1)

whitehatlurker (867714) | more than 8 years ago | (#15174904)

So, what I hear you saying is that no matter how many times you're eaten by a grue [wikipedia.org] , you don't know that the next time your lamp dies, you'll get eaten.

Whoa, slow down cowboy - that is too radical a change in universal constants. I can accept that alpha [wikipedia.org] isn't constant, but the grue always gets you ...

Re:Problem of Induction (1)

NeutronCowboy (896098) | more than 8 years ago | (#15174947)

To be completely correct, we can never be completely sure of anything that is inferred a posteriori - after observation. However, there is a priori knowledge, which is always completely correct. However, it is also reather useless, as it involves things like "A bachelor is single."

The solution to it has always been simple: assume that the number of correct observations with no counter observations indicates the likelyhood of something being "always". Then run with it. It's really only a problem in philosophy, not science.

Re:Problem of Induction (1)

ginbot462 (626023) | more than 8 years ago | (#15174981)

Any good Philosophy of Science course would go over some of the issues with induction (in the course I took it was the first topic). I am surprised the Wikipedia article mentions Popper but not Carnap [utm.edu] who tried to assign a "value" to the induction. Of course, many people (including me) feel uncomfortable with this mix of statistics and logic.


Another point, one has to be put a lot of faith in other theories associated with a measurement/observation. Say, a distant galaxy is being looked at. I might be using some IR imaging satellite; I have to trust in the theories that developed it and the process that converted it's sensors into human readable data. This is especially true when we are talking about such subtle changes.

Some comments (3, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15174575)

Historically speaking, there have been many claims in the past about various fundamental constants varying with time, and pretty much all of them have eventually not been corroborated by independent experimental groups. So take this with a large grain of salt.

Also, with regard to string theory... well, string theory is more or less compatible with practically any scenario you can think of, because it's so flexible (to phrase it charitably). Any "new physics" can generally be claimed to "support" some string-inspired model. This does not in itself constitute strong evidence for string theory (since you can cook up specific non-string models too).

Here is a link to one string theorist's (opinionated) blog regarding this issue [blogspot.com] . He notes that this ratio being constant is also consistent with string theory (and is what he believes is likely to be true).

Say goodbye to the anthropic principle. (1)

Rothron the Wise (171030) | more than 8 years ago | (#15174576)

Your part of the universe will no longer be able to sustain life.
Bummer.

Re:Say goodbye to the anthropic principle. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15174603)

Your part of the universe will no longer be able to sustain life.

However, those of us who believe in the misanthropic principle are vindicated.

Re:Say goodbye to the anthropic principle. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15174724)

That's the funniest thing I've read the whole day! Thank you!

Huh?! (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15174586)

Since when did Slashdot start posting substantive stories? What are they, trading places with Ars these days?

The spectrum depends on the relative masses ... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15174592)

That's not the only thing the spectrum depends on. Spectra also change because of external fields and forces. Concluding that the spectrum is different because the ratio of masses has changed is jumping to conclusions.

You know what this means... (1)

tomcres (925786) | more than 8 years ago | (#15174608)

We're fucked!

Other constants (1)

cpu_fusion (705735) | more than 8 years ago | (#15174609)

Why can't other constants, like say pi, be variable as well? Allow pi to vary, and you have the warping of space. How is that so strange? What assume constants are constant? (I really am curious, not trolling.)

Re:Other constants (1)

davidoff404 (764733) | more than 8 years ago | (#15174649)

We already do let Pi be variable. Pi equals 3.14... only in Euclidean geometry. If you extend the idea to non-Euclidean geometries the *interpretation* of Pi must change. The number itself doesn't change since it's *defined* to be what it is.

Re:Other constants (1)

cpu_fusion (705735) | more than 8 years ago | (#15174996)

I think I follow you. In my thinking I was considering the observed properties of a circle, not the mathematical absolute of a circle.

Say I observe a spherical object which is impossibly perfect, matching the mathematical properties of a sphere. Now let's say the observed value of pi changes within that sphere, and as a result I observe the volume of the sphere growing while the surface area of the sphere remains constant.

You are saying: congratulations, you've changed the sphere into a non-euclidean space, but pi is still 3.14..., you're going to need another interpretation of pi for this new non-euclidean space.

You might also say I'm "tripping balls", but I digress.

Re:Other constants (2, Informative)

tylersoze (789256) | more than 8 years ago | (#15174704)

Well mathematical constants like pi really are constant which I would hope would be obvious. :) Pi doesn't have anything to do with the warping of space, it's just a value that is defined to be the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter in flat Euclidean space. Fundamental "constants" are just values plugged into physics equations that we just happen to assume to be constant. If we find that they're not constant then we really shouldn't be calling them constants.

Re:Other constants (1)

dr_davel (594449) | more than 8 years ago | (#15174735)

Pi is a mathematical constant, not a physical one. There is no way it can vary, just like the number "2" can't vary.

Amsterdam you say? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15174614)

Holy smokes, that explains it... ;-D

Researchers at the Free University in Amsterdam..? (0, Flamebait)

kpainter (901021) | more than 8 years ago | (#15174618)

Are we sure these researchers haven't been hittin' the weed a bit too much?

Sure. (1)

MoogMan (442253) | more than 8 years ago | (#15174637)

This doesn't suprise me. We are the variable, trying to fit into the constants of the universe. This is why it's so hard to find "constants"...

Re:Sure. (1)

f1055man (951955) | more than 8 years ago | (#15174814)

thank you thank you thank you. It's my belief that much of modern physics is no longer science, if it ever was. Every once in while we need to step back and say, "I dunno know, never will." This is not to say physics is useless or a waste of time, only that we will never be able to comprehend a system of which we are a very small part.

.002% change (2, Insightful)

Enrique1218 (603187) | more than 8 years ago | (#15174642)

Are their instruments more precise than that? But, I found mass as an paradox when I look at it in Quantum Mechanics. We still use it in the Hamiltonian but we also rely on the electron as a dimensionless wave disturbance. Also, on a macroscopic level, we measure mass relative to other in Earth's gravity, but in Quantum Mechanics we don't factor it in because it is so small. How do we really know what the mass of the electron is. We need a more fundamental definition of what mass is before we can rely on mass ratios like mu.

Re:.002% change (2, Interesting)

shma (863063) | more than 8 years ago | (#15174968)

Mass is more fundamental than you imply in your statement. The mass of the electron is not found by simply 'weighing' it (measuring its gravitational force under earth's gravity), as you suggest. Of course, you know that force, any force, is related to acceleration through mass, and in the electrons case, we use mangetic force experiments to determine its mass. The force of a magnet on an electron (mass m_e) is F_B = m_e a_B = qvB, where v is the velocity of the electron perpendicular to a magnetic field of strength B.

It turns out that quantum mechanically, this results in the discrete energies of an electron in an atom to be dependent on the mass as well, through the mass to charge ration e/m. Experiments observing atomic spectra can, and have, measured this to great accuracy.

For a more fundamental defninition of what mass is, we can work it out in terms of fundamental constants, whose constancy, at least for now, has not been challenged: sqrt(h*c /G), (where h is planck's constant, c is the speed of light, and G is Newton's gravitational constant) has the units of mass, and is given the name of "the Planck mass". This can be used as a fundamental unit of mass, in the same way one lightsecond is used to define the meter (1 ls = 299 792 458 meters exactly).

Wait... (1)

HTL2001 (836298) | more than 8 years ago | (#15174689)

Didn't the other not-so-constant constant have something to do with light? If so the light from the quasar be affected by this?

I thought they were talking about Pi (1)

Aranwe Haldaloke (789555) | more than 8 years ago | (#15174692)

Whoa, talk about a vague summary title.

I mean, what happens when you read "Fundamental Constant Possibly Inconsistent" while the big Pi icon is in plain sight right next to it?

*shudder*

Free University? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15174701)

As in beer?!

So there's this atom .... (5, Funny)

i_want_you_to_throw_ (559379) | more than 8 years ago | (#15174728)

and says ....
"I think I have lost an electron!"

Another atom asks..
"Are you sure?"

The atom says
"I'm positive!"

I'll be here all week, enjoy the veal.....

The one true constant in the universe (2, Funny)

DrugCheese (266151) | more than 8 years ago | (#15174742)

is change.

confirms an old fact (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15174770)

Constants aren't, variables won't.

What's all this talk... (2, Funny)

arpad1 (458649) | more than 8 years ago | (#15174777)

...about contestant's incontinence? Why would I want to know about that? That's disgusting. We should be talking about more impor....

Oh.

Never mind.

The PRL paper (3, Informative)

jlkelley (35651) | more than 8 years ago | (#15174785)

For those interested in the actual paper (Phys. Rev. Lett. 96), the PDF is available on the researcher's publications page:

http://www.nat.vu.nl/~wimu/PUBS.html [nat.vu.nl]

Inconceivable! (1)

jrutley (723005) | more than 8 years ago | (#15174806)

Constant: You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.

Mind-blowing... (2, Interesting)

fritzk3 (883083) | more than 8 years ago | (#15174849)

No, not that the constant might not be constant. What's mind-blowing is that an article posted by Zonk might actually be more than mere tripe... possibly even worth reading! Man, maybe the universe *IS* just that screwed-up!

redefining the definition of constant (1)

Chicken04GTO (957041) | more than 8 years ago | (#15174890)

maybe the definition of constant should be changed from something that never changes to:

something that changes extremely slowly over the life of the universe, so slowly in fact that the species that have the intelligence to understand them will be long gone before the constants measurably change.

Basic Problem of Science (1)

thePig (964303) | more than 8 years ago | (#15174977)

The basic problem of (current view of) science is that it is, definition, based on empiricism and experimentation.
Intution comes always second to both.

Problem with empricism is that we cannot ever be sure. Just because, we observed it to be true doesnt mean that it is *always* true.
But, one would guess, by the astounding success of humanity, that our theories is all quite near to the truth.

Gut *always near*, never sure.

May be, since we have amassed enough data, we should now go back to Aristotles view with Occam's Razor as a guiding stick.
Already, I see a definite direction change towards it - String theory et al.
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