Can Those Cherished Laws of Physics Be Broken?
By James Donahue
Star Trek fans know that Captain James Kirk and all of the other heros of the spaceship
Enterprise could not have accomplished their amazing adventures in space if they were forced to abide by existing laws of
For example, ships that cannot exceed the speed of light, which is 186,300 miles per second,
would spend 100,000 years just crossing our galaxy. So worm holes and "warp speed" are a necessity for a crew to zip around
among the stars within one lifetime.
Yet another innovation created by Star Trek's Gene Roddenbury was the "transporter" that
moved the space travelers conveniently from ship to planet, or ship to ship, by breaking down their bodies and reassembling
them at another place. It was a very effective way to get off the Enterprise and into the weekly adventure on some alien planet.
And as our astronauts learned when they went through the dangerous task of actually bringing a lander on the Moon and returning
to the ship, it would have solved a lot of problems.
But is the act of breaking a living person into nothing and then reassembling the body
successfully at the other end of a laser beam without destroying it a possibility? Is it even possible to transport an object
As Lawrence Krauss recently wrote for wired.com: "probably no single piece of science fiction
technology aboard the Enterprise is so utterly implausible. More problems of practicality and principle would have to be overcome
to create such a device than you might imagine. The challenges involve the whole spectrum of physics and mathematics, including
information theory, quantum mechanics, Einstein's relation between mass and energy, elementary particle physics, and more."
And yet scientists, perhaps challenged by the very concept, are actually experimenting
with the possibility of achieving teleportation. What is even more exciting, scientists in both the U.S. and Austria, working
independently on this problem, recently succeeded in moving properties of one particle to another via a laser light.
And another team of scientists in Australia has discovered that the speed of light may
not be a constant, that it has actually slowed over time, and that Einstein's theory of relativity may be flawed.
The possibility of a shift in the speed of light was first proposed by astronomer John
Webb who discovered that light from a distant quasar had absorbed the wrong type of photons from interstellar clouds on its
12 billion-year trip to Earth. That is pretty technical, but what it means is that there is a discrepancy in the law of light
that theoretical physicist Paul Davies said can only be explained if either the electron charge, or the speed of light changed.
"But two of the cherished laws of the universe are the law that electron charge shall not
change and that the speed of light shall not change, so whichever way you look at it we're in trouble," Davies said.
In the meantime, the implications are as unclear as the unexplored depths of the universe
"When one of the cornerstones of physics collapses, it's not obvious what you hang onto
and what you discard," Davies said.
He suggested that we are witnessing the beginning of a paradigm shift in physics that may
be necessary before humans can truly explore the stars.