Einstein's theory may be relatively wrong
SYDNEY, Australia -- The crux of Einstein's theory of relativity -- that E = mc 2 -- is under challenge, following evidence that the speed of light might be slowing down.
The discovery, made by a team of Australian scientists, undermines Einstein's key formula which maintains that the speed of light must remain constant.
The speed of light is measured as roughly 300,000 kilometers (186,300 miles) a second.
The team's findings, which are published in the latest edition of respected science journal Nature, are causing a major stir in the lofty circles of theoretical physics.
Team leader Paul Davies, of Sydney's Macquarie University, says that if the speed of light has slowed over billions of years, physicists will have to rethink many of their basic ideas about the laws of the universe.
"That means giving up the theory of relativity and E = mc2 and all that sort of stuff," Davies told Reuters news agency on Thursday.
"But of course it doesn't mean we just throw the books in the bin, because it's in the nature of scientific revolution that the old theories become incorporated in the new ones."
What Davies and his team did was study a 12 billion-year-old stream of light.
They discovered it did not have the properties it was expected to, and by a process of elimination deduced that the speed of light must have been much faster billions of years ago.
"It's entirely possible that the speed of light would have got greater and greater as you go back," he told the Herald Sun newspaper.
"If the speed of light were nearly infinite in the first split second [of the universe's creation] it would explain why the universe is so uniform."
The implications of the discovery -- if it is proven correct -- are not necessarily clear.
"When one of the cornerstones of physics collapses, it's not obvious what you hang onto and what you discard," Davies told Reuters.
"If what we're seeing is the beginnings of a paradigm shift in physics like what happened 100 years ago with the theory of relativity and quantum theory, it is very hard to know what sort of reasoning to bring to bear."
'All bets off'
"For example there's a cherished law that says nothing can go faster than light and that follows from the theory of relativity," Davies said.
"Maybe it's possible to get around that restriction, in which case it would enthrall Star Trek fans because at the moment even at the speed of light it would take 100,000 years to cross the galaxy.
"It's a bit of a bore really and if the speed of light limit could go, then who knows? All bets are off."
Davies is a Professor of Natural Philosophy at the Australian Center for Astrobiology at Macquarie University.
Last week he received the British Royal Society's Michael Faraday Award for his efforts in furthering the public communication of science, engineering or technology in the United Kingdom.
Davies has a worldwide reputation as an enthusiastic and skilled communicator of contemporary physics issues.
Reuters contributed to this report.
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