Monday, March 22, 2010

For One Tiny Instant, Physicists May Have Broken a Law of Nature

For a brief instant, it appears, scientists at Brook haven National Laboratory on Long Island recently discovered a law of nature had been broken.

Action still resulted in an equal and opposite reaction, gravity kept the Earth circling the Sun, and conservation of energy remained intact. But for the tiniest fraction of a second at the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider (RHIC), physicists created a symmetry-breaking bubble of space where parity no longer existed.

Parity was long thought to be a fundamental law of nature. It essentially states that the universe is neither right- nor left-handed — that the laws of physics remain unchanged when expressed in inverted coordinates. In the early 1950s it was found that the so-called weak force, which is responsible for nuclear radioactivity, breaks the parity law. However, the strong force, which holds together subatomic particles, was thought to adhere to the law of parity, at least under normal circumstances.


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