You know that thing, electromagnetism? It powers your microwave, allows doctors to examine your insides, and lights up your surroundings so that you can see. It's great because it's so dependable. Except, according to an Australian research study, it might not be. Once you get away from Earth, at least.
Scientists describe this force, one of the four fundemental forces in the universe, using the fine-structure constant, mathematically represented by the Greek alpha.
However, the team made of staff from Swinburne University, UNSW and the University of Cambridge have found that the value of alpha is different among 300 galaxies, following on from an initial study a decade ago,
"The results astonished us," said study co-lead Professor John Webb in a press release. "In one direction - from our location in the Universe - alpha gets gradually weaker, yet in the opposite direction it gets gradually stronger."
The possible ramifications of this are, of course, enormous. It could have implications for a unified theory of the Universe, it could have implications for relativity, or even, perhaps, space exploration.
"The discovery, if confirmed, has profound implications for our understanding of space and time and violates one of the fundamental principles underlying Einstein's General Relativity theory," said PhD graduate researcher Dr Julian King.
"Such violations are actually expected in some more modern ‘Theories of Everything' that try to unify all the known fundamental forces," said Professor Victor Flambaum from UNSW.
"The smooth continuous change in alpha may also imply the Universe is much larger than our observable part of it, possibly infinite."
A paper based on this study has been submitted to Physical Review Letters, and is awaiting peer review.