back to article FRBs and variable forces: a big week for astronomy

Astronomers trawling through the archives of the Parkes Radio Telescope have turned up a new and mystifying class of intergalactic radio transmissions: FRBs, or fast radio bursts. Similar but not identical to the well-known gamma ray bursts, FRBs appear as flashes that descend through a bunch of wavelengths (from shorter to …


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  1. Martin Budden

    A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away....

    ....millions of voices suddenly cried out in terror and were suddenly silenced.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Someone probably left the kettle on.

      Or an episode of Sgt Bilko bouncing back off a meteor heading towards us.

  2. Martin Budden

    The laws of physics do NOT change in different places.

    If it turns out that local environment does affect the value of alpha and alpha is actually variable rather than constant as previously thought, that is a newly discovered law of physics - but it has always been true. Laws are laws and always are, it is only our understanding of them which changes.

    1. Anonymous Coward

      Re: The laws of physics do NOT change in different places.

      They might. We don't really know.

      You are assuming that the conditions that give rise to physical laws are time invariant and that the universe is basically deterministic. If reality really is quantum then a phase change leading to a new set of basic conditions (and yes, new laws) is not impossible - It may be wildly improbable but give it a really hot cup of tea and ..

    2. itzman

      Re: The laws of physics do NOT change in different places.

      semantics dear boy.

      WE start our science with a presupposition that there are immutable things out there. Natural laws.

      Because amongst the chaos there seems to be Order.

      None of the above are provably true however. They are just where we make a start.

      1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

        Re: The laws of physics do NOT change in different places.

        Actually alpha is variable. It depends on the energy of the interaction. This is an experimental fact.

        Interestingly, the description of the strong force does not have an equivalent of alpha, I hear. It is "self-contained". That's the way it should be. There may be big holes in the electromagnetic force.

        1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

          Re: The laws of physics do NOT change in different places.

          And as it is Friday, for those who want to have fun with numbers: Alpha and Electro-weak Coupling

          It is shown that the fine structure constant alpha has the same value that "characterises" a relation, denoted by alpha_137(29*137), between a representation of the cyclic group of order 29*137 and the induced representation for the cyclic subgroup of order 137. The value of this characteristic is alpha_137(29*137) = 0.007297352532... . The complementary characteristic alpha_29(29*137)=0.034280626357... for the cyclic subgroup of order 29 is shown to represent the gauge theory electro-weak coupling quantity g^2/(4 pi). Kinematic aspects of the representation geometry are discussed and a generalized version of the Weinberg electro-weak mixing angle is introduced.

      2. Martin Budden

        Re: The laws of physics do NOT change in different places. @itzman

        Yes, it is semantics. What I apparently failed to convey to the downvoters is that the way the universe works *is* the laws of physics, and if the way the the universe works changes then the way it changes is also part of the laws of physics. In other words, the meaning of the phrase "laws of physics" is defined by the universe itself, at all its different moments, simultaneously.

    3. Graham Marsden

      Re: The laws of physics do NOT change in different places.

      Time for one of my favourite quotes:

      The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds new discoveries, is not 'Eureka!' (I found it!) but 'That's funny ...' - Isaac Asimov

      1. Dave 126 Silver badge

        Re: The laws of physics do NOT change in different places.

        Richard Feynman used a chess analogy well: "Imagine you have to deduce the laws of the game from watching a game of chess... eventually you think you have a good grasp of it- how the pieces move... and then a player 'castles'- you haven't seen this behaviour before!"

  3. Chris Gray 1

    sounds right to me

    "different regions of the university have subtly different laws of physics"

    Hmm. That sounds right, based on my recollections of university. There were the Phys Ed laws, the Medicine laws, the Engineering laws, the Humanities laws, and of course the Sciences laws. Trying to mix them was asking for trouble.

    1. Richard Chirgwin (Written by Reg staff)

      Re: sounds right to me

      Chris - thanks for the catch! I have corrected it to "universe".

      Richard Chirgwin

      1. John Smith 19 Gold badge

        Re: sounds right to me

        "Chris - thanks for the catch! I have corrected it to "universe".

        Richard Chirgwin"

        Now how about changing it from "wavelength" to "frequency".

        1. BlueGreen

          Re: sounds right to me @John Smith 19

          >Now how about changing it from "wavelength" to "frequency".

          Whyso? it comes to the same thing, does it not?

          And if you did change it to "frequencies (from shorter to longer)" that would be bollox, I think.

          Just asking, ta.

    2. Gray Ham

      Re: sounds right to me

      Damn ... you beat me to it.

      Though I was going to mention the subtly different laws of physics that apply in the Roundhouse, especially after a few beers.

  4. Long John Brass


    Could be a GSV accelerating away from us?

    We really need to keep an eye out for a signal that increases in frequency; indicating something heading our way

    1. Florida1920

      Re: GSV?

      Not to worry. Yahoo! will buy it, and we know how that will work out.

  5. Martin 47

    Every article I read on astronomy seems to remind me of this old joke....

    A mathematician, a physicist and an astronomer are on the train from London to Glasgow, as they cross into Scotland the astronomer sees a black sheep in a field.

    Ah ah says the astronomer, a black sheep, from that I can deduce that all sheep in Scotland are black.

    No, says the physicist, all you can deduce is that in Scotland some sheep are black.

    Actually says the mathematician all you say is that in Scotland there is a field in which there is a sheep, one side of which is black.

    Oh look is that my coat.

    1. Thecowking

      Astronomers are physicists.

      And we're more awesome than the other types of physicist, the only reason you can be in a room with an Astronomer and not instantly worship them is that our awesomeness is _very far away_.

      Think about it; "Oh I discovered a new kind of sub atomic particle that exists for a zillionth of a second." "Really? I watched the birth of a galactic civilisation and the death of another in a fiery nova. Also there were lasers."

      Astronomer wins.

      1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge
        Paris Hilton

        > Astronomer wins


  6. Paul Hedderly

    Universities are strange places thats for sure:

    "The other biggie from astronomy is an announcement from the University of New South Wales, which believes new work with a white dwarf star might provide evidence that different regions of the __university__ have subtly different laws of physics"

  7. BlueGreen

    "might provide evidence ,,, different regions ... have subtly different laws of physics"

    Well, it might prove anything in the end, but unless they've got some fair reason for saying it, it's just the PR dept being PR dorks again.

    Scientists: "constant alpha structure far ultraviolet quarklets uptake gibber gibber gibber"

    PR dork: "no, no, make it interesting, for example could this imply life on white dwarfs?"

    Sc: "well it doesn't rule out some kind of self-supporting entropic phenomenon with information processing organs beyone the minimum concomitant with their environment but that's completely outside of -"


    PR and marketeers, everything and anything ex nihilo. It's their job I suppose.

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