Measuring changes in the fundamental constants with redshifted radio absorption lines

S J Curran*, N Kanekar, J K Darling

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

21 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

Strong evidence has recently emerged for a variation in the fine structure constant, alpha equivalent to e(2)/hc, over the history of the Universe. This was concluded from a detailed study of the relative positions of redshifted optical quasar absorption spectra. However, radio absorption lines at high redshift offer a much higher sensitivity to a cosmological change in alpha than optical lines. Furthermore, through the comparison of various radio transitions, HI, OH and millimetre molecular (e.g. CO) lines, any variations in the proton g-factor, g(p), and the ratio of electron/proton masses, mu equivalent to m(e)/m(p), may also be constrained. Presently, however, systems exhibiting redshifted radio lines are rare with the bias being towards those associated with optically selected QSOs. With its unprecedented sensitivity, large bandwidth and wide field of view, the SKA will prove paramount in surveying the sky for absorbers unbiased by dust extinction. This is expected to yield whole new samples of HI and OH rich systems, the latter of which will prove a useful diagnostic in finding redshifted millimetre absorbers. As well as uncovering many new systems through these blind surveys, the SKA will enable the detection of HI absorption in many more of the present optical sample - down to column densities of similar to10(17) cm(-2), or 2 orders of magnitude the sensitivity of the current limits. Armed with these large samples together with the high spectral resolutions, available from the purely radio comparisons, the SKA will provide statistically sound measurements of the values of these fundamental constants in the early Universe, thus providing a physical test of Grand Unified Theories. (C) 2004 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1095-1105
Number of pages11
JournalNew Astronomy Reviews
Volume48
Issue number11-12
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Dec-2004

Keywords

  • FINE-STRUCTURE CONSTANT
  • 21 CENTIMETER ABSORPTION
  • LYMAN-ALPHA SYSTEMS
  • TIME-VARIATION
  • PHYSICAL CONSTANTS
  • NEUTRAL HYDROGEN
  • COSMOLOGICAL EVOLUTION
  • GRAVITATIONAL LENS
  • 21-CM ABSORPTION
  • OH ABSORPTION

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