A recent story indicates there may be variation in the fine structure constant (which relates to the fundamental strength of electromagnetic interactions) over time and over space. The time-variation shows up as the astronomers looked out into space, and thus back into time. This variation has been claimed to exist by some, but the jury is still very much out. The spacial variation is new, and considerably more troubling. Specifically, the spacial variation shows up as an very slight anisotropic variation in the spectral lines of extra-galactic light sources observed from the northern vs the southern hemisphere.

A variation in the constant in of itself would be astonishing enough. If indeed it varies in the whole Universe in a manner rather symmetrically centered on the Earth’s equator – that would be beyond astonishing: It would scientifically re-introduce a justification for geocentricism. That would be one of the most profound changes to cosmology since Copernicus, and would put the Earth back in a “special” place.

My vote is that the experiment that detected the hemispheric variation was flawed, either because of a systematic device error or an error in analysis. Perhaps there is some local anisotropy in space (say, from the Faraday Effect) that the experimenters did not take into account.

The other data astronomers have accumulated that show Earth is not in a special place is, for the moment, far more persuasive than the tiny variation in cosmological data shown in the mentioned experiment. It will be interesting to see whether the results can be repeated or explained by other professionals.

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