While an article Jack recently found in the Guardian demonstrates that they way we measure minutes, hours, and days here on Earth might be shifting ever so slightly over time, a story recently published by Wired cites a scientific study working to prove that the laws of physics, as best as we can tell, are constant. This was something originally posited by Einstein in his theory of general relativity, but a group of scientists at the National Institute of Standards and Technology in Boulder, Colorado, spent the last 14 years intensely studying an array of atomic clocks to actually prove it.
The experiment itself is rather complicated (though Wired’s Sophia Chen does a good job making it understandable to English majors such as myself), but the general idea is rather straightforward. To prove that the laws of physics are constant, you need to observe a phenomenon over and over again, as many times as possible, and measure it as precisely as possible to see if it happens the same way each time. Atomic clocks are extremely precise machines and the light waves that they use to measure time oscillate billions of times per second. This means they combine both the high frequency of an event and its relative precision, checking the two biggest boxes for the experiment. So, from November 1999 to October 2014, the scientists observed the atoms at the cores of a group of atomic clocks to see if they would behave constantly over time as they moved through space (they are sitting on the Earth as it orbits, after all).
While they obviously can’t say that the laws of physics never change or couldn’t change, the results are rather promising and seem to indicate that, at least in our little corner of the Universe over the last decade and a half, things are pretty reliable. Now, if that doesn’t help you sleep more soundly at night, I don’t know what will.
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