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Fundamental Constant Possibly Inconsistent 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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Fundamental Constant Possibly Inconsistent

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  • by iainl ( 136759 ) on Friday April 21, 2006 @11:38AM (#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?
  • 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 [] (not flooded with scientific jargon).

  • by Straif ( 172656 ) on Friday April 21, 2006 @11:51AM (#15174602) Homepage
    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.
  • .002% change (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Enrique1218 ( 603187 ) on Friday April 21, 2006 @11:55AM (#15174642) Journal
    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.
  • by Hatta ( 162192 ) on Friday April 21, 2006 @12:23PM (#15174922) Journal
    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.
  • by jfmiller ( 119037 ) on Friday April 21, 2006 @12:55PM (#15175266) Homepage Journal
    Of course string theory is cnsistant with a constant mu. Any theory must be consistant with current observations. The point here is that conventional QM theory is inconsistant with a variable mu while string theory might be. This lends weight to accepting string theory as a more accurate discription of reality as it more correctly explains this observed phonominia.

  • Re:Other constants (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Decaff ( 42676 ) on Friday April 21, 2006 @12:59PM (#15175326)
    Why can't other constants, like say pi, be variable as well?

    Pi is not a physical constant. It is the result of a mathematical expression. It can't change.
  • What is mass? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by wanerious ( 712877 ) on Friday April 21, 2006 @01:03PM (#15175375) Homepage
    The results are potentially interesting, though I'm initially skeptical of *any* measurement of phenomena back at this redshift claiming accuracy to some tiny fraction of a percent. And, to be picky, astronomers virtually never say that an object is "12 billion ly away" --- we usually refer to their "location" via the redshift number, as this is easy and unambiguous.

    But a change in the ratio of their masses might shed some light on exactly what mass is to begin with. Yes, it's the ability to curve space, and also the resistance to being accelerated. But never mind the p/e ratio being fixed, no one really understands why the individual values are what they are to begin with.

    For example, something that always gets me is the muon. Identical to the electron in virtually every way (charge, apparent point-like non-structure, lepton) except is has a mass roughly 207 times as great. Why? What does it have 207 times more of than the electron does to make it 207 times more efficient at curving space? What kind of goo is there that makes it 207 times more resistant to acceleration? And if it's truly a fundamental particle, as we suspect for leptons, why 207-point-something?

    It nags at me.

  • by Illbay ( 700081 ) on Friday April 21, 2006 @01:27PM (#15175639) Journal
    ...another nail in the necessity-of-God argument's coffin?

    But wouldn't God know what should be constant and what should be variable?

    Sorry, I have a far, far more difficult time getting my mind around "it's all just mere chance" than "God is in the details."

  • by deesine ( 722173 ) on Friday April 21, 2006 @01:44PM (#15175824)
  • by iamlucky13 ( 795185 ) on Friday April 21, 2006 @02:28PM (#15176229)

    First of all, to stay a little bit on topic, the theoretically observed change in mu is extremely small. Physicists don't know why mu should be about 1836 instead of about 1836.5 or 3 or 11,296,428. My understanding is (and I am not an expert on this), that really small change in mu like we're talking about here wouldn't significantly affect the universe and it would still look largely like it does, but somewhat small change in mu, like an order of magnitude would, a lot. This bugs physicists because they don't know why it is what it is. Why do we have the universe we have instead of something drastically different like one that collapsed or blew apart 10 minutes after the Big Bang? The only answer they can offer is the anthropic principle: It is the way it is because if it weren't, we wouldn't be here to notice.

    The existence of God does not hinge on the constancy of mu. This doesn't even disprove intelligent design, which is as bad from a theological perspective as it is from a scientific perspective, being vain in both schools. Several prominent Catholic theologians have stated as much. The perplexing question of why fundamental particles are the way they are and therefore allow us to exist does not constitute a proof of God's existence, but they are rather suggestive.

    For the record, I think a brief discussion of creation concepts would be appropriate in social studies (as part of a survey of religions) or in philosophy classes (the study of being) in public schools, but not in science. I want to point out that if God created the phenomena which allows and upon which we base our science, it's unlikely that we would be able to prove or disprove His existence directly through science.

    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

    I wasn't going to reply, but it seemed worthwhile to Question this statement. Who is controlled here? The billions of faithful who find meaning in life? In what way are we controlled? By adherence to principles that are conducive to the betterment of mankind like "love your neighbor as yourself" and "Thou shalt not kill?" What is the gain for these scheming, evil leaders and their P/R man? You don't exactly see a lot of priests pimping it up with 22" rims on their Lincolns and an escort on each arm. Celibacy, the difficulties of working with a faith-community, itchy robes, and a badly off-key there's a good reason to cook up a religion. I'm willing to guarantee you the overwhelming majority of religious leaders really do believe in the faith they profess. Yes there is a large degree of misdirection and a few unscrupulous groups that are nothing more than pyramid schemes or printing companies, but the basic precepts of most religions out there are founded, promoted, and executed with good intent.

  • > God is a woman.

    Then I'm going to hell, and I won't even know why. :-)

  • Re:.002% change (Score:2, Insightful)

    by shimavak ( 925762 ) on Friday April 21, 2006 @02:51PM (#15176424)
    See, I still think that you're missing out, the both of you, on one of the most curious facts of all. Why is it that the inertial mass is the same as the gravitational mass?

    What links the two?

    I've not yet seen any satisfactory explaination for either, and I've looked, believe you me. (Not that it matters in this regard, but I have all but finished my non-research course load for my Ph.D. in Physics; therefor, I am quite familiar with the concepts and I have had a good long time to ask my questions and get no answer)
  • by master_p ( 608214 ) on Friday April 21, 2006 @05:24PM (#15177793)

    The first part of your post is good...but the second one about faith leaves a lot to be desired.

    The billions of faithful who find meaning in life?

    Actually no one finds meaning in life from religion...because religion dictates that this life is just a test for the afterlife. People usually find meaning in life when they get rid of religions, i.e superstitions, witchcraft and the like.

    In what way are we controlled?

    Religion makes people pathetic command receptors. They await like sheep for an order from their master.

    If people were not controlled by religion, no one would be able to start a war "in the name of God".

    If people were not controlled by religion, we would not have billions of people starving while the government officials live a luxurious life.

    If people were not controlled by religion, they would listen to the calls of nature and be much more free in making love. It is sad to see young people being reluctant to open themselves to the pleasures of their body just because someone told them it is a sin...and love is liberating, and only with true love one can be emotional enough to love him/herself and the world around her.

    By adherence to principles that are conducive to the betterment of mankind like "love your neighbor as yourself" and "Thou shalt not kill?"

    But these principles work only because people fear hell. Take away the fear of hell, and then you will see that under the hood, people are still savages. It would be much better if people really understood and embrace those principles because they wanted to, not because they fear punishment if they do not.

    What is the gain for these scheming, evil leaders and their P/R man?

    The gain is the majority of people are sheep that happily accept to live a shitty life, while they enjoy all the goods this planet has to offer, and then more.

    You don't exactly see a lot of priests pimping it up with 22" rims on their Lincolns and an escort on each arm.

    What these people do, they do it in private. Most rich people live daily with cocaine, drug and sex orgies, they are pedophiles and perverts. Especially the top officials of religions, together with politicians and other groups of people. How many cases of child abuse by Catholics would you want to be persuaded?

    Of course the Pope and other church's leaders are actually going around in Lincolns!

    Celibacy, the difficulties of working with a faith-community, itchy robes, and a badly off-key there's a good reason to cook up a religion.

    The lower rank priests are the heros of our society...but these people would be good even if religions did not exist.

    I'm willing to guarantee you the overwhelming majority of religious leaders really do believe in the faith they profess.

    Judging from what they have done in the past (conspired with Hitler, for example), I really have to say you do not have a clue.

  • by bill_kress ( 99356 ) on Friday April 21, 2006 @05:38PM (#15177871)
    I wasn't going to reply, but it seemed worthwhile to Question this statement. Who is controlled here?

    Who is being controlled by faith??? Are you seriously asking?

    Okay, Let's see...

    Terrorists seeking virgins in the afterlife.
    Christians voting for Bush.
    Christians bombing abortion clinics and/or murdering abortion doctors.
    Any religious followers donating to these filthy-rich preachers.
    Catholics agreeing to avoid birth control.
    Catholic priests avoiding sex (added by the church so they wouldn't leave churches they had built to their heirs, a common problem a while ago)
    The "Holy Wars"
    The Spanish Inquisition
    Government abuses (Have faith in your government)

    I know you think I'm being broad, but Faith is a very broad concept. If you accept what someone else tells you without questioning it, you are leaving yourself open to all the above.

    Faith is an EVIL idea, it's simply a way of hiding what you are doing behind a shroud. It is necessary in religion because there is nothing going on behind the shroud--there is no "Real World" proof of anything, so they say "Have faith" in order to validate any of it.

    Letting a concept like Faith into your life also lets in all those other examples because people stop challenging things they are fed. For instance: the bible has a million contradictions, some extremely obvious, some a little more subtle. Faith requires that there are no contradictions. Every time you force these contradictions to "Work" in your mind, you are breaking your brain a little, making it easier for external forces to manipulate it. It's a long process, but it's going on en mass across the world.

    Oh, and I'm also a little beyond beliving the whole "It's harmless because he only preaches don't hurt thy neighbor", this Bible is full of horrible stuff, like God telling "His People" to murder "the littl ones of every city" of his enemy.

    If you ARE going to believe as a Christian, at least suck it up and face the fact that this is one nasty fellow you're following. Don't let them tell you to take on "faith" that he's all about goodness and light. This god asked for burnt offerings and told you to stone to death your newly married daughter for the crime of not being a virgin.

    And don't give me that BS about "Christ put in a good word for us and fixed it" because these things are exactly what god wanted at one point, so that IS what god wants (or are you saying he was just cranky and grew out of it? He decided that the things he asked for were not such a good idea after all? AN OMNISCENT BEING DOESN'T CHANGE HIS OPINION BECAUSE HE KNEW ABOUT FUTURE FACTORS ALL ALONG!)

  • by bill_kress ( 99356 ) on Sunday April 23, 2006 @12:02PM (#15185253)
    How does God tell us anything? Have you talked to him?

    As for what you can really observe, the bible is the word of god is it not?

    Where in the bible does it say to question anything? Also, if you are questioning everything, how do you know the bible is the word of god?

    In fact, the bible was written by humans and the books were selected by a power-hungry church. The sections chosen were chosen specifically because they had the least conflicts and supported the church the most.

    I don't really worry about weather or not those people had their hand guided by God. Maybe, maybe not. If you claim that their hands were guided by god (and therefore the bible was written by god/is his direct word) then you start to take a LOT on faith, and as I said, I don't do that--I question everything.

    Ps. They just found the book of Judas. It was excluded by the church because it conflicted a couple other books and was called heresy for a long period where it's thought that every copy was burned (Yes, this is how the church chose what goes into the bible and what didn't). It covered Judas being Jesus' best friend--closer than any of the other apostles--and Jesus asked him to betray him. It's not completely validated, but it was from the right age.

Leveraging always beats prototyping.