Inconstant Constants; November 1998; Scientific American Magazine; by Musser; 2 Page(s)
Of all the assumptions that undergird modern science, perhaps the most fundamental is the uniformity of nature. Although the universe is infinitely diverse, its basic workings appear to be the same everywhere. Otherwise, how could we ever hope to make sense of it? Historically, scientists presupposed uniformity on religious grounds. In this century, Albert Einstein encapsulated it in his principle of relativity. As geologists and astronomers peered far beyond the domain of common experience, they saw no sign that nature behaved any differently in the distant past or in deep space.
Until now. A team of astronomers led by John K. Webb of the University of New South Wales has found the first hint that the laws of physics were slightly different billions of years ago. "The evidence is a little flimsy," says Robert J. Scherrer of Ohio State University. "But if it¿s confirmed, it¿ll be the most startling discovery of the past 50 years."