Thursday, November 3, 2011

FTL Neutrinos and the Fine Structure Constant

Hi again,

It looks like the fine structure constant ain't so constant.  The fine structure constant is a pure number of about 1/137 that was thought to be a fundamental constant.  It's the ratio between the energy needed to overcome electrostatic repulsion between two electrons a distance d apart and the energy of a photon of wavelength 2 pi d.  Chemistry is all about the energies involving electrons and light, so the fine structure constant pops up a lot in quite a few fields.  The fine structure constant depends on the charge of the electron, the speed of light in a vacuum and Plank's constant, so as long as all these are in fact constant, their ratio will be a universal.

This past Hallowe'en, however, Physical Review Letters published a highly-confirmed yet still extremely controversial paper showing that in old galaxies, the fine structure constant is higher in older galaxies.  There are only three possible causes; one of them must be true:

  1. The charge on the electron is larger in older galaxies
  2. The speed of light is smaller in older galaxies
  3. Plank's constant is smaller in older galaxies.
None of these choices are all that appetizing, but #2 is consistent with the idea of my previous post that there's a particle field we haven't found yet that's slowing down photons a bit. As a nice bonus, the order of magnitude of the change in the fine structure constant observed is pretty close to the order of magnitude of the factor of the photon slowdown seen in the OPERA experiment.

These thoughts are still just tantalizing ideas, and there probably isn't a connection.  Drop me a line if you have ideas about this!



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