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Galactic data shore up a constant

10:42am, May 11, 2005

From Tampa, at a meeting of the American Physical Society

The first galactic test for possible variations in a fundamental constant of nature has found no evidence for change. The new findings raise doubts about a 2001 report by quasar observers that alpha, a presumed constant that figures into the strength of the electromagnetic force, actually varies over time, says Jeffrey Newman of Lawrence Berkeley (Calif.) National Laboratory.

The earlier observations examined absorption of quasar emissions by clouds of gas deep in space, and the findings suggested that alpha, also called the fine-structure constant, has grown slightly since the universe was young (SN: 10/6/01, p. 222: Constant Changes). Any fluctuation could have big implications. For instance, a changing alpha might signify extra unseen dimensions.

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