Astronomers found another way to test for variability in α by looking at spectra from white dwarfs—objects with masses similar to the Sun but dimensions closer to Earth’s. The compact nature of white dwarfs means that atoms near the surface experience gravitational fields more than 10,000 times stronger than those on Earth’s surface. The increased gravity could cause unexpected changes in α, but recent measurements limit variations to smaller than one part in 10,000.1 This study produced similar limits as previous research, but improvements in spectral line values as determined in the laboratory should increase the sensitivity of these calculations by two orders of magnitude.
New constraints on α need not require the use of telescopes and exotic objects out in the universe. The behavior of electrons in atoms found here on Earth also probes variations in α. For two years, scientists measured the frequencies of two specific atomic transitions of the element dysprosium. Based on this data, the researchers showed that ααvaried by no more than one part in 10-16 per year (or one part in 100,000 over the history of the universe).2 Using a similar experimental setup, the group also constrained violations of special and general relativity (specifically Lorentz invariance and Einstein’s equivalence principle) to one part in 10-17 and one part in 10-8, respectively.3
These measurements add to the growing body of evidence that we live in a universe governed by constant laws of physics, just like the universe described in the Bible. (RTB,JZ)
*** Will Myers