Challenging Einstein with “something extraordinary” reported in The Guardian, 11 April 2005, The Age, (Melbourne, Australia) and Cambridge (UK) Evening News 12 Apr 2005. Michael Murphy of Cambridge’s Institute of Astronomy has told a meeting of physicists at Warwick University that one of the foundational assumptions of Einstein’s special theory of relativity, i.e. that the speed of light is unchanging, may be wrong. Ironically the physics conference he was speaking at was specially convened to celebrate Einstein’s centenary. Murphy has been working with John Webb of the University of New South Wales (Australia) analysing light from 143 quasars – very distant objects in the universe, whose light has travelled a long way to reach earth. Their conclusions are based on changes in the fine structure constant – a fundamental measurement used to describe how light and matter interact that is linked to the speed of light.
This aspect of the research was also reported in ScienceNOW (The online news service associated with journal Science) 12 April 2005, but their article made no mention of the speed of light. Ekkehard Peik, of the Physical-Technical Institute in Braunschweig, Germany commented: “Their result seems to be robust and has survived a number of systematic tests, but the controversy has not been settled.” Other astronomers are sceptical, but Murphy believes further studies such as an atomic clock experiment planned by the European space agency for 2006, will confirm his claims. He commented “We are claiming something extraordinary here, and the evidence, though strong, is not extraordinary enough”. Ekkehard Peik hopes that Murphy turns out to be right because “it would open a window” to a completely new physics.
Editorial Comment: It is interesting to see secular astronomers and physicists and secular newspapers reporting this item without scoffing. Even the Royal Society’s “Science in the News” webpage gave a link to some of the newspaper articles mentioned above. The evidence for a suspected change in the speed of light was ignored or scorned when Christian creationists such as Barry Setterfield presented it over 20 years ago. (Ref. physics, astronomy, universe)