A radical discovery by my colleagues and I – reported this week in Physical Review Letters – could help explain why it was possible for life (at least as we know it) to develop on Earth, but not in other parts of the universe.
It suggests one of the fundamental laws of physics, electomagnetism, is not constant throughout the universe and may change depending on where you are.
Big claims? Yes, they are. The discovery we have made is radical. Onlookers are skeptical and it may take years to show whether we are right or wrong.
And, yes, who am I to speak?
I lead a research group at the University of New South Wales focusing on one very specific question: have the laws of physics always been as we know them today on Earth, or were they different in the early universe. My work sits at the boundary between fundamental physics and astronomy.
In general terms, I investigate what the universe was like when it was very young and how it has evolved over the 14 billion years since it spontaneously appeared.
When my colleagues and I looked at the spectra of gas clouds in the early universe and compare with the same elements measured in laboratories on Earth, we saw very slight but significant differences.
A simple analogy might help explain this:
Consider a barcode on an every-day item on a supermarket shelf.