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December 15 2012
By peering at alcohol molecules in a distant galaxy, astronomers have determined that a fundamental constant of nature has hardly changed at all over the age of the universe.
The constant — the ratio of the mass of a proton to the mass of an electron — has changed by only one hundred thousandth of a percent or less over the past 7 billion years, the observations show.
The scientists determined this by pointing the Effelsberg 100-m radio telescope at a distant galaxy that lies 7 billion light-years away, meaning its light has taken that long to reach Earth. Thus, astronomers are seeing the galaxy as it existed 7 billion years ago. The telescope looked for special light features that reflect the absorption of methanol, a simple form of alcohol that contains carbon, hydrogen and oxygen.
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