Physicist says time, gravity could be changing

By By Dan Treasure

By Dan Treasure

The fundamental constants such as gravity and time are changing, according to 14th Astronomer Royal, Sir Arnold Wolfendale, who spoke at the Aline Wilmot Skaggs Biology Building Auditorium last week.

Citing such sources as physicist Paul Dirac, Wolfendale said there are striking similarities to the ratios of scientific constants and how big the universe is. In an example, Wolfendale showed that the decay length of a neutron is equal to the size of the universe. Why this matters to the public, according to Wolfendale, is that if the universe is expanding, scientific constants, such as time and gravity, might also be changing. He also questioned the idea of time and if the public would notice if it changed.

Wolfendale also explained how the quest to discover a way to measure longitude was solved not by a navigator or sailor, but English clock maker John Harrison. As Wolfendale said, for every 15 degrees one travels in longitude, the time moves one hour ahead. So, if a person can find out the local times at two points on Earth, one can use the difference to calculate how far apart they are in longitude.

Although a sailor could discover the local time quite easily by the position of the sun, there were not clocks accurate enough to keep the local time.

“It seems that man-made clocks are more accurate than natural clocks,” such as pulsars, once thought to be the most accurate phenomena to measure for time’s sake, Wolfendale said.

“I think what really grabbed my attention…is (that) he is the honorary liveryman of the Worshipful Company of Clockmakers”, which means that Wolfendale is a full member of a company, said dean of the College of Science and a fellow physicist, Pierre Sokolsky.

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