By Jean-Philippe Uzan, Benedicte Leclercq

ISBN-10: 0387734546

ISBN-13: 9780387734545

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Extra info for The Natural Laws of the Universe: Understanding Fundamental Constants (Springer Praxis Books Popular Astronomy)

Sample text

The equations showed that the speed of this propagation in a vacuum was similar to that of light, as determined by Fizeau and Foucault. Kirchhoff, noticing this coincidence of values, saw that it might reflect the existence of a law of physics. Maxwell then inferred that light waves were electromagnetic, thus combining three concepts into one! Nearly 60 years later, Dirac would try (as already mentioned) to draw conclusions from another numerical coincidence. The reality of electromagnetic waves would be confirmed experimentally in 1887, eight years after Maxwell's death, when Heinrich Hertz in Germany succeeded in creating them with an electrical oscillator.

Therefore to the same natural effects we must, as far as possible, assign the same causes. The same criteria of universality and unified explanation apply in modern-day physics. MEASURE IN ALL THINGS Learned men like Copernicus, Kepler, Galileo and Newton added their ingredients to the cauldron of universality in which the fundamental constants would simmer. How did these constants come to be? To answer this question, we must look to another aspect of physics: measurement. Measurement involves the comparison of objects, though the physicist might call them systems.

It was long believed that light propagated instantaneously through air and in a vacuum. Galileo, who would not accept such dogmatic beliefs a priori, set out to test this idea. He tried to time the return journey of light between two hills a few kilometres apart. At night, he showed a lantern, having instructed an assistant to reveal his own lantern only when he saw the light of the first. 00001) of a second ± an interval that could not possibly be measured at the time. Later, French philosopher Rene Descartes saw that the distance involved in such an experiment might be increased by using the Earth and the Moon as reference points.

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The Natural Laws of the Universe: Understanding Fundamental Constants (Springer Praxis Books Popular Astronomy) by Jean-Philippe Uzan, Benedicte Leclercq


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