The theory of the speed of light is a universal physical constant that keeps things just right. It’s the third bowl of porridge in our messed up Fairy Tale world. The sun rises and sets, your feet stay on the ground and the Universe carries on growing at the same rate. It’s the ripped, checkered blanket that you nick off your dog when you go home for Christmas - it keeps the world around us concrete. But 2016 isn’t a very concrete year to be involved with, is it? And as its foundations continue to wobble, we have to start casting doubt on the theories of the big man himself: Albert Einstein.
João Magueijo and Niayesh Afshordi have thrown another chunky spanner into the blancmange of 2016 by announcing that they have the grounds to challenge Einstein’s theory of the speed of light. Magueijo, from the University College of London, and Afshordi from the University of Waterloo in Canada, have been developing the theory since the optimism of the 1990s and yesterday released a paper describing how scientists can challenge one of the fundamental constants of nature that keeps everything legit. The theory was worked on to explain why the cosmos looks much the same over vast distances, much like the British countryside. The speed of light is integral to much of modern physics, including what happened in the immediate aftermath of the Big Bang, and a change in its perceived constants could flip science on its gravity-stricken head.
Professor Magueijo confirmed that ‘If true, it would mean that the laws of nature were not always the same as they are today.’ The doubt cast on the speed of light could instead cast assertions on the troubling truths of our post-truth splattered year. In a year where hoards of much loved ‘celebrities’ have fallen off the edge of the Earth at a Twitter-terror inducing rate, and the sensibilities of the western world have floated off into the stratosphere- perhaps the world isn’t really that round and gravity ain’t what it’s always been cracked up to be.
If the theory of light can truly be challenged, then other pillars of socially acquired safety might not be as stonewalled as we think. Is the John Lewis Christmas advert really culturally relevant? Does the format of A Question of Sport still result in nationwide laughter? Are Marks and Spencer’s sundries significantly better than Tesco’s?
Querying the validity of the theory of the speed of light also gives legitimacy to the terrifying sounding ‘Horizon Problem’, which points out how different regions of the Universe have not touched each other because of the great distances between them, yet they still have the same temperature and other physical properties. This shouldn’t be possible as the transfer of energy and heat can occur only occur at the speed of light. But if the speed of light fluctuates, then so does our bloody Horizon.
David Marsh, from the University of Cambridge, however, thinks we’re going to all be okay and responded to Magueijo and Afshordi’s paper by asserting that ‘It remains to be seen how robust the predictions are when all the theoretical issues have been addressed’. But, if the waves sent through the scientific world are big enough to result in me falling off the edge of Pret after leaving with a Christmas sandwich then I’m all for having a pop at the Horizon problem.
Let me grab a pen.