In a laboratory in Paris, a French physicist has very accurately determined the value of a number that shapes the universe. The measurement offers new insight into the question of whether unknown things are hiding in the nooks and crannies of reality.
No, “42” is not it. That bizarre answer is what supercomputer Deep Thought comes up with in a famous scene from science fiction classic The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy when asked for “the answer to the question about life, the universe and everything.
Yet it could well have been. Although the so-called fine-structure constant is slightly less all-encompassing than ‘that one question’, it is not that far off.
A universe in which this constant has a different value would probably look completely different,’ says physicist Saïda Guellati-Khélifa, lead author of an article in the journal Nature in which she and colleagues present the most accurate value of the physicists’ world-famous constant.
Image: Ship of Fools/Volkskrant