Electromagnetism is one of the four fundamental forces of nature that is responsible for holding our Universe together. The other three, Gravity, Strong Nuclear Force, and Weak Nuclear Force, are also important for the proper functioning of the Universe as we know it. The nature of these forces governs the myriads of interaction between particles big and small. The proper and detailed study of these forces has been the central debate of Physics since its inception. From the time when Newton came across gravity and its effects, things have been progressing with breakneck speed.
It is because of the tendency of scientists to study things in such detail that we have come across some constants that seem to be embedded in the fabric of reality itself. Some of the famous examples are Planck’s constant and G. However; there is one relatively less known fundamental constant of nature that has stolen the spotlight in recent days.
The fine structure constant, or alpha (a common way to denote it) is used in calculating the strength of electromagnetic interaction between elementary particles. The most astounding property of these so-called fundamental constants of nature is that they are found to be constant anywhere in the Universe, or so we thought.
Recent readings taken together with other readings from separate studies have uncovered the fact that tiny variations can be observed in the fine structure constant. The new readings taken from a quasar situated 13 billion light-years away are at the centre of this phenomenon. The variation in the value of the fundamental constant of nature can have huge implications for Physics and the way we view our Universe. The news has spread like wildfire through the scientific community, and it is still unclear what exact effects it will have on our understanding of the Universe.
The discovery also seems to point to another weird fact that the Universe might have a concept of direction. The previously hidden ‘north’ and ‘south’ poles are the directions along which the variations in the fine structure constant can be mapped. This means that the Universe might not be isotropic in its laws of Physics, which means the laws of Physics might not be the same everywhere in the universe and can depend on the location. The existence of north and south means that the Universe has a dipole structure to it.
The data was collected from the Very Large Telescope (VLT) in Chile. The team measured the electromagnetic force in the Quasar as they would have been when the Universe was much younger. The preliminary ideas suggest that the concept of a perfectly balanced set of forces of nature might not hold for every place in the universe.
The distant measurements reveal that the electromagnetism seems to gradually increase the further we look and decreases in the opposite direction. Another team of independent researchers who are studying the nature of X-rays support the theory of directionality in the Universe. The team has also found a cosmic alignment that seems to point in the same direction.