Scientists soon to test Albert Einstein's speed of light theory

Three certainties in life: Death, taxes and the speed of light – wait no, maybe not that last one

If the inflation theory is true, it would preserve Albert Einstein's theory that light speed is constant, as well as other physics laws known today.

According to Einstein, the speed of light remains constant and hence space and time could be different in different situations and conditions.

Several scientists have tested the speed of light with their own method and found it to be constant in vacuum - 299,792,458 meters per second. If their theory is tested, it would mean that basically everything that has been achieved or assumed in the physics field could be doubted hereafter. A group of scientists though is challenging this theory of Einstein.

"If true, it would mean that the laws of nature were not always the same as they are today", he said.

One of the oddest things about our universe is that it has some fundamental constants. His theory has stood for over a century and scientists community have accepted it. Einstein's theory could be challenged by a new theory if it's proved true. The speed of light is maximum in the vacuum and nothing can move faster than the speed of light.

But, what if the assumption of a constant speed of light was somehow wrong from the very beginning?

One of the originators of this theory, Professor João Magueijo, who works at the Faculty of Natural Sciences, Department of Physics, Imperial College, London, UK, working with Dr Niayesh Afshordi, from the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics, Waterloo, Ontario, Canada, has made a prediction which he says could be used to test his theory's validity.

Professor Magueijo said: "The theory, which we first proposed in the late-1990s, has now reached a maturity point - it has produced a testable prediction".

Einstein has said that the speed of light is constant.

Some researchers believe that the speed of light could be higher in the early stages of the universe. When the universe has expanded enough, this speed also dropped so as to compensate for this expansion.

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The more mainstream theory on the speed of light is inflation, which tries to solve the horizon problem by stating that the early universe had evened out in its infancy and then expanded suddenly. But the inflation theory doesn't sit well with many physicists, mainly because nobody can explain why inflation started and why it stopped. "Inflation' suggests that the early universe went through a phase of mega-fast expansion, considerably faster than the universe's rate of expansion today".

That's where Magueijo had begun wondering whether the speed of light is variable - he was looking for another way to solve the horizon problem.

This month, a paper published in Physical Review D [Arxiv] challenges this view. It includes a testable mechanism to his hypothesis.

If light speed varies, it would suggest that there was a much higher speed of light during the time of the early universe, which allowed faraway edges to connect as expansion ensued.

Magueijo said that the idea of a variable speed of light was seen as radical when it was proposed, but he said that a numerical prediction it can become something testable for the physicists.

This can be tested by measuring cosmic microwave background radiation, or a mock-up of the early universe that can still be measured in present-day. The theory is that the CMB should show if the speed of light and the speed of gravity is modified as the temperature of the universe change.

The value they predict, called the spectral index, which describes the density ripples in the universe, is 0.96478.

Magueijo and Afshordi have a predicted CMB value of 0.96478, which is a similar, but not identical figure to the recent reading of 0.968.

Magueijo and Afshordi are not alone in rethinking relativity.

What if measurements of the spectral index don't match Magueijo's and Afshordi's prediction?

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