Are the Laws of Nature the Same Everywhere in the Universe?

Article written: 20 Jun , 2008
Updated: 24 Dec , 2015

Although we haven’t figured out everything in the universe by a long shot, we’re getting a pretty good a handle on how things work in our world, and how the laws of nature operate here at home. One big question we have is, would laws of nature as we know them function the same at other locations in the universe? A new study says, yes. Research conducted by an international team of astronomers shows that one of the most important numbers in physics theory, the proton-electron mass ratio, is almost exactly the same in a galaxy 6 billion light years away as it is in Earth’s laboratories, approximately 1836.15.

According to Michael Murphy, Swinburne astrophysicist and lead author of the study, it is an important finding, as many scientists debate whether the laws of nature may change at different times and in different places in the Universe. “We have been able to show that the laws of physics are the same in this galaxy half way across the visible Universe as they are here on Earth,” he said.

The astronomers determined this by effectively looking back in time at a distant quasar, labeled B0218+367. The quasar’s light, which took 7.5 billion years to reach us, was partially absorbed by ammonia gas in an intervening galaxy. Not only is ammonia useful in most bathroom cleaning products, it is also an ideal molecule to test our understanding of physics in the distant Universe. Spectroscopic observations of the ammonia molecule were performed with the Effelsberg 100m radio telescope at 2 cm wavelength (red-shifted from the original wavelength of 1.3 cm). The wavelengths at which ammonia absorbs radio energy from the quasar are sensitive to this special nuclear physics number, the proton-electron mass ratio.

“By comparing the ammonia absorption with that of other molecules, we were able to determine the value of the proton-electron mass ratio in this galaxy, and confirm that it is the same as it is on Earth,” says Christian Henkel from the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy in Bonn, Germany, an expert for molecular spectroscopy and co-author of the study.

Their research was published in the journal Science.

Original News Source: Max Planck Institute

27 Responses

  1. Al Hall says

    I think that the laws of nature are the same everywhere. I also think that it is quite possible that we don’t know all of the laws. I think the next law we learn (or one that we know of that may need to be modified) will explain (and possibly refute) the theory of dark matter. I have no data to support it, I just feel it.. Is that scientific, or what? 🙂

  2. Tim says

    I think that we are very narrow minded. I say this all the time but we might eventually find a antimatter galaxy and the theory of a matter monopolized universe will be wrong. Along with tht the law of pyhsics could be completely different. I think we should use our imagination to find what is out there.

  3. Maxwell says

    With a universe so big and our scope of experience so small, I’d have to agree that we have little firm ground to stand on when saying we know anything about how the universe works.

    While antimatter is interesting and all, personally I’m waiting for the discovery of a perfectly square planet.
    Its the simple paradigm shifts that will wreak the most havoc.

  4. Mike says

    The Quasar is not at cosmic distances if Halton Arp is correct.

    Hence the result may be erroneous.

  5. Chuck Lam says

    Racheal, Maybe you are experiencing the on-set of a detached retina. Suggest a visit an ophtalmologist.

  6. Rachel says

    Not to topic but I need help
    We were laying on our backs in the yard in SF tonight and looking straight up and saw a LARGE FLASH. not like a trailing ‘shooting star’. Much brighter and much bigger than any other star in the skies. I was not the only one who saw it so I know I didn’t just have an anuerism(sp wrong..sorry).
    Do you have any ideas?
    LOVE the podcast!! Thanks for any help you can give.
    Aloha from oddly warm San Francisco!

  7. Well, that is a major relief….I only have to learn 1 kind of physics then. Although, perhaps spacetime geomitries would differ, oh, say in a black-hole than say in the frame dragging edges of that black hole, or when you’re going near lightspeeds, or say in everyday situations here on Earth. Of course, the theory of everything really ought to be the same everywhere (I’ll say that Twister Theory is getting very close to that too).

  8. Arun Prabhu says

    No.Not all nature laws are same.If so that is only coincident.Mainly the nature laws changes from time to time.I mean to say the nature laws during or before the big bang are not same now.That is how something formed from nothing, which can not be prooved now.

  9. Dr Bob says

    Rachel ;

    If others saw the flash you are fine ….Multiple flashes seen by only you mean you should go to the emergency room and check for glaucoma and detached retina …you should do this eye exam each year anyway.
    I hope you all didnt see a GRB .

    I’ll send you my bill.

    Dr. Bob

  10. James says

    Rachel, maybe it was a supernova. I’ve never seen one myself, but I hear they’re pretty bright if you’re lucky enough to see one.
    Some of these other comments are downright crazy. I really don’t know how to respond!
    Arun, our laws could apply to the universe before and during the big bang, in addition to a ton of other things we don’t know yet that caused the bang. Or, you could be right, and they could have changed over time. Or something else could have happened. Looking at science in a way you personally think is logical is being illogical. You need to find things to support your claim.
    Do you think before Newton could prove the laws of physics, they were any different? You’re saying because we can’t prove anything at this very moment, they must have changed. That is assuming we know EVERYTHING about the way the current laws work (which we don’t).
    The main thing, though, is that nobody knows, including you. You can’t ever say such a definite answer.
    Scientific theories aren’t concrete, and many of these responses are treating them as that. Tim, right now, we believe the universe is matter-monopolized. Scientists by nature aren’t narrow-minded. Honestly, right now (as far as I know), there is little or no evidence for anyone to say that there is definitely an antimatter galaxy. So, nobody says it. This doesn’t mean we’re ruling out the possibility. It just means no experiment has determined they are there. I’m sure lots of scientists and people, just like yourself, think they could be there. Because they could.
    The only reason your argument would work is if, in this article, it mentioned no antimatter. And it doesn’t.
    All this proves is that, in a potentially extremely faraway location (someone mentioned it might not be as far away as they claim, but I’m not sure on that issue), many of the laws of physics are probably the same. And that can be extended to say they are probably the same in even more places in the universe (and hopefully everywhere!). This is just one experiment. It’ll need to be tested further before we can say the laws are the same everywhere. And even then, we may not have checked every little nook and cranny in this universe.

  11. Dave says

    It appears they have made a rather large leap of faith with regards to the results. Even if totally and 100% irrefutable in their analysis that the proton-electron ratio is the same, its kind of like saying that you stood on the beach at Cape Hatteras looked across the Atlantic with a spyglass and saw an oak tree, and by that determined that all trees in Europe are the same as those in North America.

  12. Dan says

    Hi Rachel,

    I would guess you saw an “iridium flare” these are bright blue streaks of light. They don’t follow the normal part of shooting stars instead they just last 1-2 seconds… They are reflections off reflective panels aboard a chain of un/ under used celluar phone sattlites.

  13. Arun Prabhu says

    Hi James, You are right.We should have something to justify the statement.
    I have onething in mind that how the iniial matter formed from nothing resulting in such a huge universe?Which is the current nature laws apply to that?

  14. Frank Glover says

    “I say this all the time but we might eventually find a antimatter galaxy and the theory of a matter monopolized universe will be wrong.”

    But finding signfigant antimatter in the Universe wouldn’t *violate* any known law of physics. (indeed, cosmologists can’t say why that *isn’t* so, though we’d likely not be here if there were) But there are other observations that strongly indicate that that’s not so, either.

    “While antimatter is interesting and all, personally I’m waiting for the discovery of a perfectly square planet.
    Its the simple paradigm shifts that will wreak the most havoc.”

    But (assuming an Earth-mass planet) that would be the equuivalent of mountains thousands of miles high. We understand material strength and gravity well enough to rule that out. After all, part of the definition of a planet *is* a body massive enough to pul itself into essentially a spherical shape…

    “…you stood on the beach at Cape Hatteras looked across the Atlantic with a spyglass and saw an oak tree, and by that determined that all trees in Europe are the same as those in North America.”

    If *every single* oak tree in North America were absolutely identical with each other, and the only one you could see in Europe was also identical to them, then that would not be an unreasonable assumption. Yes, you’d want a bigger sample of European oaks, but it’s still not unreasonable.

  15. Jon Hanford says

    Rachel, might the object you observed be the Delta II launch of the Jason 2 sea-sensing satellite launched from Vandenberg AFB @ 0746 GMT on June 20th? I believe it was launched into a polar orbit & should have been nicely seen from your San Francisco location. Just a thought.

  16. Rachel says

    Thanks Everyone for the hints..I was not the only one to see it so no need to send me to the docs yet…
    It had no trailing lights at all. Just a large flash of light in the sky directly above us..I am new to this fascination with the stars so I could not tell you where I was looking besides it being straight up.
    I know a GRB is gnarly but it couldnt of been one right? Cause then we wouldnt be here..
    Thanks again. I think I want to chalk it up to my first supernova. But I dunno. Feels very presumptuous of me…

  17. Dark Gnat says

    Racheal: It could have been a strait-on meteor. In other words, a meteor that was basically aimed strait for your location. In such a case, you wouldn’t see a trail, but a bright flash.

  18. Excalibur says


    It could have been a straight-on meteor, it could have been an extraordinarily bright GRB (the only one that so far have been detected as naked-eye visible was about magnitude 5, barely visible from a dark sky)

    But more likely is that it was an iridium flare, a reflection off of an Iridium satellite – they are quite common, and quite bright – on the order of brighter than Venus, at times.

    It could not have been a supernova though, although very bright they are also much more long-lasting than that, even the ones with rapid decline

    As for the findings, it doesnt prove laws of nature are the same everywhere, but it does limit the possible variations, And it is a find in support of one of the fundamental assumptions about our universe – yes, assumption, because proving that laws of nature dont change is currently beyond our capacity. But it does make more sense to assume that those laws are static, although we may only have a glimpse of what those laws in the end are.

  19. AI says

    Thy shall wallow in the philosophical veil that is Earth. Earth beings are lucid creatures with rock hard membranes that live the laws of our fantastic planet.

    Good Day Sir

    And watch out for the bears!

  20. John M. Kulick says

    A clarification
    The observation that the ratio of the mass of an electron verses a proton is constant does not prove that the mass of the electron and the mass of the proton are constant.

    If the change in properties affects both particles with the same proportional effect, the observed relationship is preserved.

  21. 800HighTech says

    How can we say for certain that the laws of physics and/or nature are the same throughout the universe?

    There is no way we are looking at the bigger picture….I mean, of course its possible but we cant say for sure.

  22. Greg G says

    “Rachel, maybe it was a supernova. I’ve never seen one myself, but I hear they’re pretty bright if you’re lucky enough to see one.
    Some of these other comments are downright crazy.”

    The last (recorded) naked-eye supernova was in 1604 – so I doubt it was one of those. A visible supernova would make all the newspapers!

  23. Grijze Postduif says


    I have seen three such flashes in my lifetime.
    They lasted less than a second.

  24. Grijze Postduif says


    I have seen three such flashes in my lifetime. They lasted less than a second.

  25. Chuck R. says

    “Are the Laws of Nature the Same Everywhere in the Universe?”

    To put it mildly; Likely not.

  26. Harmen says

    Why would the laws not be the same everywhere?
    As far as I know we’re all made from the same Big Bang, if the Big Bang would’ve created many different things, earth and mars would be nowhere alike.
    Earth and Mars are both made of the same materials, protons, neutrons and even in the same states (solids gasses). Why would something far away be so different?

  27. Tammy says

    The heavens are telling the glory of God;
    And their expanse is declaring the work of His hands.
    Day to day it pours out speech,
    And night to night reveals knowledge.
    There is no speech, nor are there words;
    Their voice is not heard.
    Their line has gone out through all the earth,
    And their utterances to the end of the world.
    In them He has placed a tent for the sun,
    Which is a bridegroom coming out of his chamber;
    It rejoices as a strong man to run his course.
    Its rising is from one end of the heavens,
    And its circuit to the other end of them;
    And there is nothing hidden from its heat.

    The law of the Lord is perfect, restoring the soul;
    the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple.
    The precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart;
    The commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes.
    The fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever;
    The judgments of the Lord are true; they are righteous altogether.
    They are more desirable than gold, yes, than much fine gold;
    Sweeter than honey and the drippings of the honeycomb.
    Moreover, by them Your servant is warned;
    In keeping them there is great reward.
    Who can discern his errors? Acquit me hidden faults.
    Also keep back Your servant from presumptuous sins;
    Let them not rule over me;
    Then I will be blameless,
    And I shall be acquitted of great transgression.
    Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart
    Be acceptable in Your sight,
    O Lord, my rock and my Redeemer. Psalm19

    God made the heavens and the earth for us to marvel at and explore, He takes delight in us exploring the mysteries of Him and His creation. Everything in this universe was made through design and order. We are bound by a variety of different laws while living on this planet. Since the fall of man, God knew we could not follow His moral Law, so He sent His son, Jesus, to die in our place. The wages of sin is death. Romans 6:23 If we believe and embrace Jesus and follow His teaching, we will have eternal life with God, instead of eternal separation from Him. God sent His Son to the world not to condemn the world but to save it. John 3:17

    Search out all the mysteries but grasp the most important mystery of all…God’s Word, His love letter to you, the Bible.

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