Three eyes on the sky track laws of Nature 10 billion years ago

September 12, 2014 by Lea Kivivali

Astronomers have focused the three most powerful optical telescopes in the world on a single point in the sky to test one of Nature's fundamental laws.

An international team, led by researchers from Swinburne University of Technology, observed a quasar – the extremely bright surroundings of a – using the Very Large Telescope in Chile and the W M Keck Observatory and Subaru Telescope, both in Hawaii.

The quasar light passed through three different galaxies, some 10, 9 and 8 billion years ago, on its way to Earth. These galaxies absorbed a characteristic pattern of colours out of the quasar light, revealing the strength of electromagnetism – one of Nature's four fundamental forces – in the early and distant Universe.

"We spread the light very finely into its component colours, producing a rainbow with a `barcode' pattern of missing colours. We can then measure electromagnetism by `reading' this barcode," said Tyler Evans, Swinburne PhD student and lead author of the new study.

"We need to compare the barcode patterns from three telescopes to be sure they're right."

Previous studies, using a large number of , had found hints that electromagnetism might be different in the distant reaches of the Universe – slightly weaker or slightly stronger than on Earth.

"If that's true, we'd need a completely new understanding of fundamental physics," Mr Evans said.

"So it's crucial to triple check whether and how the telescopes are distorting the barcodes."

By comparing the barcodes, the researchers found small differences between the telescopes.

"The beauty of our method is that we can also use the barcodes themselves to correct each accurately," said Swinburne Associate Professor Michael Murphy, who co-authored the work.

"Once corrected, all three telescopes gave the same answer: electromagnetism hasn't changed, within a few parts per million, over 10 billion years. I think this is the most reliable measurement of its kind so far".

The team is now making similarly careful measurements in many other galaxies.

"With our new techniques and new quasar observations recently complete, we can make the most accurate check to see whether 's strength really is changing or not," Associate Professor Murphy said.

Explore further: Silhouettes of early galaxies reveal few seeds for new stars

More information: "The UVES Large Program for testing fundamental physics - III. Constraints on the fine-structure constant from 3 telescopes." T. M. Evans, M. T. Murphy, J. B. Whitmore, T. Misawa, M. Centurion, S. D'Odorico, S. Lopez, C. J. A. P. Martins, P. Molaro, P. Petitjean, H. Rahmani, R. Srianand, M. Wendt arXiv:1409.1923 [astro-ph.CO] arxiv.org/abs/1409.1923

Related Stories

Astronomers steer Hawaii's Keck telescopes from Australia

May 26, 2014

(Phys.org) —From a remote control room in the middle of Swinburne University of Technology's Hawthorn campus, astronomers have successfully steered the world's largest optical telescopes more than 9000 kilometres away at ...

Astronomers find universe's most distant quasar (w/ video)

June 29, 2011

(PhysOrg.com) -- A team of European astronomers has used ESO’s Very Large Telescope and a host of other telescopes to discover and study the most distant quasar found to date. This brilliant beacon, powered by a black ...

Distant quasar illuminates a filament of the cosmic web

January 19, 2014

Astronomers have discovered a distant quasar illuminating a vast nebula of diffuse gas, revealing for the first time part of the network of filaments thought to connect galaxies in a cosmic web. Researchers at the University ...

Recommended for you

A universe of 2 trillion galaxies

January 16, 2017

An international team of astronomers, led by Christopher Conselice, Professor of Astrophysics at the University of Nottingham, have found that the universe contains at least 2 trillion galaxies, ten times more than previously ...

Simulations suggest Planet Nine may have been a rogue

January 12, 2017

(Phys.org)—Space researchers James Vesper and Paul Mason with New Mexico State University have given a presentation at this year's American Astronomical Science meeting outlining the results of simulations they have been ...

'Hot Jupiter' detected around nearby variable star

January 12, 2017

(Phys.org)—Astronomers have detected a new "hot Jupiter" exoplanet orbiting a nearby T Tauri star known as TAP 26. The newly detected alien world, designated TAP 26 b, is about 66 percent more massive than Jupiter and is ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.