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Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Why are our mathematical constants one by one proving to be variable!?

I've noticed 2 different science articles recently revealing constants that aren't constant after all.  The fine structure constant "α"has recently been shown to be a variable. [cite:entertaining article] [cite:source of entertaining article]  My vary hazy understanding of this is that it involves electromagnetic interaction through different materials according to its density and permeability. (take that with a grain of salt)

The other constant which has recently been proven to be a variable is the steady decay rate of radioactive particles.  [cite: entertaining article] [cite: source of entertaining article]  What's particularly fascinating to me about this finding is that decay rate slows down further and further if you're closer to our sun.  I'd think since carbon dating uses radioactive particle decay as its basis, this discovery puts the accuracy of our dating into question.

Let me give a quick rundown of constants involved in the math around physics.  There are 2 basic types:  "Dimensionless Physical Constants" and "Dimensional Physical Constants."   The dimensionless variety are constant numbers without the need to be expressed in any unit, and can be applied on the extremely small the quantum scale, in everyday measurements like meters or centimeters, or on a grand scale of light years.  [cite: omg wikipedia-physical constants, I'm so pro]The dimensional variety, such as "Big G" Gravity, reacts differently on different scales, and is expressed in physical units. Big G, the gravitational constant, seems to change at a steady rate with the passage of time. [cite: paper 1976]  This can otherwise be expressed as the expansion of spacetime due to acceleration away from the big bang.

The speed of light is the one constant that stays the same, and most measurements are based around this. Can spacetime expansion be affecting our constants?  This is what my hunch would be, but I really don't know.  What other constants need to be retested at this point?  Are they changing in any proportion to each other?  I guess we'll have to wait and keep an eye out for the answers.

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