Earth's Laws Still Apply In Distant Universe

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20th June 2008, 02:33pm - Views: 693

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20 June 2008 

For immediate release

Earth’s laws still apply in distant Universe

The laws of nature are the same in the distant Universe as they are here on Earth,

according to new research conducted by an international team of astronomers.

The research, published today in Science, found that one of the most important numbers

in physics theory, the proton-electron mass ratio, is almost exactly the same in a galaxy 6

billion light years away as it is in Earth’s laboratories – approximately 1836.15.

According to Swinburne astrophysicist and lead author of the study, Dr Michael Murphy, it

is an important finding, as many scientists debate whether the laws of nature may change

at different times and in different places in the Universe.

“We have been able to show that the laws of physics are the same in this galaxy half way

across the visible Universe as they are here on Earth,” he said. 

The astronomers determined this by effectively looking back in time at a distant quasar.  

The quasar’s light, which took 7.5 billion years to reach us, was partially absorbed by

ammonia gas in an intervening galaxy.

“Not only is ammonia useful in most bathroom cleaning products, it is also an ideal

molecule to test our understanding of physics in the distant Universe. The wavelengths at

which ammonia absorbs radio energy from the quasar are sensitive to this special

nuclear physics number, the proton-electron mass ratio.

“By comparing the ammonia absorption with that of other molecules, we were able to

determine the value of the proton-electron mass ratio in this galaxy, and confirm that it is

the same as it is on Earth,” said Murphy.

The astronomers’ aim is to continue testing the laws of nature in as many different places

and times in the Universe as possible.

“We want to see how well the laws of nature stand up in untested situations, by looking

well beyond our little portion of space and time.”

In order to do this, the astronomers will need to locate more absorbing galaxies. “The

galaxy we studied is the only known one of its kind in the Universe. We know there must

be many more out there; we just don’t have the technology to find them.”

According to Murphy, this problem could be overcome with the proposed Square

Kilometre Array (SKA) telescope project. “The SKA is the largest, most ambitious

international telescope project ever conceived. When completed it will have an enormous

collecting area, and will allow us to search for more absorbing galaxies.”

The location of the SKA, which has been short-listed to Western Australia and South

Africa, will be announced within the next two years.

By continuing their research into the forces of nature, the astronomers also hope to find a

window into the extra dimensions of space that many theoretical physicists think may


Researchers: Dr Michael Murphy, Swinburne University of Technology, Australia; Prof.

Victor Flambaum, University of New South Wales, Australia; Dr Sébastien Muller,

Academia Sinica Institute of Astronomy and Astrophysics, Taiwan; Dr Christian Henkel,

Max Planck Institute for Radio astronomy, Germany.



Media Contact: Crystal Ladiges (03) 9214 5064 or 0416 174 880 

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