Physics is full of constants and variables, inputs and outputs. But the values of physical constants is something that has frustrated many a scientist before. Determining the value of the speed of light is one thing, sure — but asking “why is it this, and not that?” is a much bigger question.
From Ars: “The fundamental constants are one of the mysteries of modern physics. These constants are not predicted by theory; instead, their values are measured and put into the equations. Our physical theories will accept pretty much any value for the fundamental constants, but if the values were even the tiniest bit different, our Universe would be unrecognizably different—to the extent that we would not exist.”
The fine-structure constant is a number made by putting four of the other constants we know about into an equation and measuring the number that comes out. It doesn’t mean anything on its own, but it’s a test we can perform and know that if that number changes, then at least one of those constants isn’t actually so constant after all.
Studies have shown that constants are, in fact, very constant. But I always liked the idea that they’ll vary in ways we just haven’t found out how to test yet. And when I think of the fine-structure constant being variable instead of stable, I think of this image.
I do love the texture and details on this one. See the full-resolution abstract artwork below: