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Changing one of nature's constants

If correct, new finding could upend physicists’ view of universe

The constants, they may be a-changin’ — and so may some of the fundamental laws of nature, a controversial new study suggests.

Studying the pattern in which gas clouds absorb the light from distant quasars, astronomers say they have found evidence that one of nature’s physical constants changes in a lopsided manner.

Along one direction the fine-structure constant, which governs the strength of the electromagnetic force, grows slightly weaker with time, while in the other direction it grows slightly stronger. The research, by John Webb of the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia, and his colleagues, was posted online at arXiv.org on August 25 (http://arxiv.org/abs/1008.3907). The work is the latest in a series of controversial studies on the fine-structure constant, also known as alpha, that the researchers have conducted since 1999.

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