Most Of Our Universe Is Missing (From the Science Channel 6/13/06)
Over the past 40 years some of the world’s best minds have tackled a big VERY big problem. According to their calculations, 96% of the universe is missing. Something you can’t see can’t really define, and definitely don’t understand controls the universe. And if the numbers are right, we’re even smaller than we thought.
Atoms are extremely versatile things. In various configurations, they make up everything we see, smell, taste and feel, including our bodies, our coffee, & even our tennis rackets. Everything around us is composed of atoms. Outside the boundaries of Earth, the sun planets and galaxies and the universe are made of these tiny building blocks. But there is a problem. It turns out the entire universe isn’t made of these atoms. Once we account for every atom, 96% of the universe is missing.
It’s a very bizarre concept which is hard for Science to visualize. SOMETHING WE CAN’T SEE IS PULLING THE STRINGS OF THE COSMOS. It could be dust, it could be planets. The alien stuff, if it exists, needs to fill a VERY BIG hole, because 96% of our universe is unaccounted for.
For some scientists, finding what’s missing is the single biggest challenge in physics today. Most of the universe is made of something else, and we have a chance to figure out what it is.
Leading the pack for the search of the missing universe is a team of scientists at Boulby mine in England. Boulby mine, Europe’s deepest mine produces salt and potash, but these scientists aren’t interested in that. They go down a mile in the Earths crust to discover what’s going on in space.
They’ve been going there for 16 years, and spent millions on scientific hardware. They’re on the hunt for a new particle, one that can travel right through the Earth’s core. The business of uncovering the stuff of the missing universe can be a frustrating one.
The practicalities and the difficulties of doing these experiments, and the care in which you have to do them, unfortunately cause things to happen more slowly. Solving the problem is a Nobel Prize winning endeavor that will give us a much more accurate understanding of how the universe works.
Not surprisingly, the worlds deep mine are full of scientists looking for this missing thing that fills up the universe. The hunt has been on from the 1970’s. By 1974 Science was on a roll. It had conquered small pox, made space travel a reality, and put men on the Moon. Once more, science was happy. It knew what the universe was made of, and none of it seemed to be missing at all. But then two professors from Princeton University raised some startling questions. They were focused on finding out how much matter there was in the entire universe.
James Peebles from Princeton University says, “Jerry Ostriker brought to the enterprise, a lot of astronomical knowledge that I didn’t have. I was trained as a physicist. I astronomy I know was picked up from the streets.” Jerry Ostriker says, “What got Jim Peebles and I interested, was work we had done the year before, on the stability of galaxies. In the early 70’s, Ostriker & Peebles were doing were doing pioneering work using computers to model the universe. But there was a problem. The virtual galaxies they tried to build, simply fell apart. Ostriker says “We had discovered in trying to make a model for our own Milky Way, that if you just put into the computer what you see in the sky, it doesn’t work. If you make a disk of stars, it came apart in one rotation period, and went into two blobs, or a rotating bar or something.”
The solution was simple, they just needed more matter in their galaxies, because more matter would provide more gravity, and more gravity will stop everything from falling apart... in theory. The trouble was that in practice there was no extra matter to be found. So they invented some. They called it DARK MATTER. Peebles says. “We had a problem; we have structures of galaxies that don’t behave properly unless we introduce this new notion of dark matter.” Dark matter couldn’t be seen, and had never been detected. It was simply a name for theoretical extra stuff. But it wasn’t a new idea. In the 1930’s, a decade of it’s same of brilliant physicists, one man, no not him, one man, the talented but border line psychopathic Fritz Swicky, noticed something strange, and not on paper, but in reality. It wasn’t a theory; it was a actual observation, made with a telescope.
Ostriker said, “Fritz Swicky was the first to realize that there was something up. He observed clusters of galaxies, and he saw them whizzing around one another, and the forces that were holding them together were not sufficient, if you could only have in them, the mass that was associated with the stars that you could see.”
Swicky was a difficult man to get along with. So his scientific work was often over looked. But his forgotten ideas of dark matter were a GOD send for the team at Princeton. Ostriker said, “We checked and checked our calculations, and they we looked back at Swicky’s work who said that there was dark matter, and we put it together in our second paper, and it was all consistent with having almost ten times more mass and dark matter, than there is in ordinary matter, like stars, planets, & gas.”
In 1974, Jerry Ostriker & Jim Peebles announced to the world that galaxies just couldn’t exist without dark matter. They needed lots of it. Even more than Swicky had predicted. The idea didn’t go over well. Ostriker said, “People didn’t like Swicky, and they didn’t tend to agree with his result even though they didn’t have any objection to it, and they didn’t particularly like our result either.” Peebles said, “I do recall a few discussions in which people said, you know this is awfully speculative, and they were right.”
The world was not yet ready for Peebles and Ostriker, and their ideas of dark matter. But things were about to change, thanks to Vera Ruben at the Cornegie Institute. Vera Ruben has spent decades solving the mysteries of the universe. She said, “When I started working here, I looked for a problem I could do at my own pace. I have four children and a supportive husband, but the traveling was more difficult to go to observatories out west which was necessary.”
Ruben decided to go against mainstream science ignoring black holes, and looked instead at entire galaxies. In doing so, she stumbled across something much more fundamental. For 300 years, Newton’s law of gravity has defined physics. Gravity governs everything, and the way planets orbit the sun is perfectly described by Newton’s laws. The sun at the center of the solar system holds the orbiting planets in its gravitational grip. But the further away the planets are, the weaker the sun’s gravity becomes.
If we plot the velocity of the planets as a function of the distance from the sun, Mercury, Venus, Earth Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto, you see Mercury orbits much more rapidly than Pluto. The graph is called a rotation curve. It represents the law of gravity. The further away you travel from the sun, the weaker the gravitational force.
Galaxies work in the same way as our solar system. Except instead of planets orbiting the central sun, in a spiral galaxy, stars are held in orbit by a gravity providing black hole.
In the 1970’s, Ruben was looking for rotation curves in galaxies. Ruben said, “I picked the outsides of galaxies, because that was a problem I knew no one I knew of was studying, and it was a problem I was interested in for quit a while.”
Ruben turned her telescopes on Andromeda, the galaxy closest to ours. Ruben said, “I cam e out with sets of numbers, and I plotted them on pieces of paper, and I discovered that the stars as you went further and further out, did not slow down. They were moving just as fast as the stars near the center. And that was a surprise! And a surprise that had to be explained.”
The stars seemed to defy the laws of gravity. The expected rotation curves weren’t curves at all. Ruben said, “If we observe the velocities of the stars orbiting in a galaxy, we find their velocities remain flat all the way to the end of our observations. That’s not what was expected by correspondence with the solar system. And just in fact just from Newton’s law it was expected that the velocity of the stars would fall off like our solar system. So it was clear that our ideas about galaxies were incorrect.”
The stars were moving too fast. By definition, they should just fly of into space. It was as though they were being held into place by extra gravity.
Jerry Ostriker said, “Vera Rubens work was critical in producing a tipping point where the idea of dark matter went from something which the people in the know knew about, to where everybody knew and accepted it.”
Peebles said, “The visual impression of Vera’s images was so striking that it just lept to the eye. We shouldn’t underestimate the power of an image, and her images were stunning.”
Science had uncovered a puzzle. There was something missing. There wasn’t enough mass in the universe to provide the gravity to hold it together. And yet there the universe was, obviously not falling apart. But science also provided an answer. Dark matter made everything work, and thanks to Vera, it was suddenly very popular. Everybody who was anybody in astro physics had a new obsession. Dark Matter was headline news.
There was only one small problem; no one had actually found any. Professor Saul Perlmutter the University of California, Berkeley said, “The term dark matter sounds exotic, but the fact is most things around us are dark, unless of course it’s a light shinning, a head lights from a car, or something reflecting light from another light source. But basically when we were looking for it with the dark matter that was causing all this extra gravitational attraction, it could have just been in all the stuff we see around us, and that’s what people began looking for.”
Astronomers measured gas clouds, dust, planets, dead stars, all the things in space that don’t shine, were taken into account, in the search for the identity, of the gravity of the dark matter. But there just wasn’t enough.
By the early 1990’s even the most flamboyant estimates had come up with less then 10% of what was needed to make sense of the observations, and if dark matter isn’t ordinary matter that’s difficult to see, than it might be something that’s IMPOSSIBLE to see.
Professor Riccardo Giovanelli (Cornell University) is an expert in observing parts of the universe that other astronomers can’t reach. But then he doesn’t just use any old telescope. “This telescope collects radio waves which are just like visible light except for the fact that the wave lengths are much longer. Radio astronomy basically opens a new window on the cosmos, in addition to that, that our eyes allow us to see.”
The radio telescope at Arecibo in Puerto Rico is what the locals call “The biggest ear in the world.” At 333 yards its massive dish is larger than 3 football fields, and feeds the radio waves it collects, to centers hidden in a 900 ton housing, suspended almost 500 feet above it. The telescope gives us pictures of the universe based on the amount of hydrogen it senses. Riccardo Giovanelli said, “Hydrogen is the most abundant element in the universe. Therefore we can use this telescope to detect hydrogen to study the structure of the universe.”
When they completed the picture, they found that even at the furthest reaches of galaxies where there are no stars, only hydrogen, something odd was happening. The gas was orbiting just as fast as the stars. Even the hydrogen gas was being manipulated by a mysterious force. It seemed that dark matter would have to exist as a huge HALO, surrounding a galaxy, and everything in it.
Riccardo Giovanelli said, “We know that the amount of mass in the form of stars or gas cannot contribute the mass that we see as indicated by the rotation of the Earth. So the condition of the mass has to be in a form, in a non-atomic form.”
All the evidence pointed towards one slightly unsettling thing, unlike everything we know, from coffee to tennis rackets to people, dark matter is NOT made of atoms. So what we’re looking for is this, something that has mass, but isn’t made of atoms. SEOMTHING THAT IS EVERYWHERE, BUT ISN’T SEEN! Scientists have to think in a whole new way, about a whole new kind of matter.
Back at Boulby mine in England, they’re looking for dark matter underground. Professor Tim Sumner is a dark matter hunter. He’s not an astronomer, he’s an experimental astrophysicist. His work must be done in a clean environment. So special overalls are worn, and air showers taken to eliminate contaminates. Because ordinary items like rock and dust and gas are made of atoms, they have been ruled out as dark matter.
Sumner and his team are looking for something that has mass, but is not an atom. Today the most popular candidate exists only on paper, and in theory, has the ability to fly straight through the Earth. So an underground mine is the perfect place to pick up its very faint signal, theoretically. Sumner said, “The form of dark matter that we’re looking for is a new family of particles. We have good reason to believe these particles exist because they are required by other theories within physics.”
The elusive particle is called a nutrileno.(sorry for the spelling) It has mass, exists all over the universe, and could be dark matter. But if it really does exist, the neutrileno is capable of passing through anything made of atoms. For professor Sumner, that means it’s pretty adapt at passing straight through his sensors undetected, especially since they are made of atoms. Sumner says, “In this laboratory we’re trying to find a hypothetical particle which not only interacts extremely weakly with our target materials, but which also doesn’t do much with our target even if it does interact.”
Sumner and his team have been looking for this dark matter for 16 years, but so far they’ve detected nothing. This kind of strikeout rate would discourage most scientists, but experimental astrophysics are made of tougher stuff. There’s a lot at stake. Sumner says, “The discovery of dark matter must surely rate amongst the other greatest discoveries in physics. It is such a fundamental problem now with physics and cosmology that finding the answer to that problem is going to be an enormous discovery.”
There is NO DOUBT there is something VERY strange going on. The flat rotation curves don’t make sense without extra gravity, and there are only two ways we know of to get extra gravity. You can get it from dark matter, or you can just make ordinary gravity a bit stronger in places. Since this goes against Newton’s law of gravity, and would undermine much of physics, the search for dark matter goes on.
Professor Carlos Frenk of Durham University says, “One of the hardest questions on the subject is to try and find out how much dark matter there is. Sense you can’t see it, how do you know how much there is? SO WE HAVE TO RESORT TO INDIRECT ARGUMENTS, BUT THESE ARGUMENTS ARE VERY POWERFUL.” (Sound familiar evolutionists and creationists? Neither side has ANY direct physical evidence to prove either side!)
Most powerful of all is the “science” of the big bang, which predicts the total amount of mass in the universe today. We know simply from counting stars that ordinary matter makes up 4% of the matter for the big bog (he he) prediction, so dark matter must make up the other 96%.
Carlos Frenk said, “In the early 1990’s I was very fortunate to be involved in an experiment that gave us the first really serious accurate measurement of the amount of dark matter in the universe.”
Frenk and his associates were about to discover for the first time that dark matter made up the missing parts of the universe. Frenk says, “We asked the question how much dark matter is there in the universe, and the result was pretty catastrophic, there was not enough.” 75% not enough! Frenk says, “There was about 5 times less dark matter than what we expected to find, and that to me was really a SPIRITUAL AND PHILOSOPHCIAL AWAKENING! The universe didn’t make any sense at that point.”
Instead of dark matter providing all the answers, it now posed a brand new problem. Frenk says, “It looked as though there was something BIG missing that would make a universe simple and elegant. It wasn’t there. We had failed to measure the amount of dark matter we had every reason to expect should have been there.”
Just when cosmologists thought they had it all figured out, a 75% hole appeared, and everything began to unravel. Things were looking bleak for dark matter. Since its first appearance it had become a highly theoretical and possibly undetectable particle, falling to provide the missing 96% part of the universe.
Then in 1998 the big bang raised even more questions. Professor Saul Perlmutter started using one of the world’s largest telescopes to measure how fast the universe is expanding. He says, “At the time it was pretty clear to us that the universe should be slowing down because of gravity. All of the material of the universe attracts each other because of gravity, and you would expect that would slow the expansion of the universe. What we didn’t know at that stage was weather it would be slowing down enough so that it would come to a halt and then collapse, and that was the fun of the project. We thought we were going to get to answer weather the universe was going to come to an end some day, or weather it was going to continue to expand, just slowing, slowing and slowing.
Professor Perlmutter was measuring how fast exploding stars or super nova’s were traveling away from us, and was about to discover something that didn’t make sense. He says, “What we saw was that the universe was apparently speeding up, and that was the surprise. We did not expect that we would see the universe speeding up in its expansion.”
From the observatory Perlmutter saw something impossible. Perlmutter says, “This didn’t fit at all with the current physics that we know about, and we’re pretty good at understanding most of the things in the universe with our modern theories of physics. But there is no element in the current theories of physics that would make the universe expand faster and faster, and that’s what was really shocking here.
Shocking maybe, but a break through. The amount of energy needed to cause the acceleration was hugely significant. Because energy is proportional to mass it accounted exactly for the missing 75% of the universe. And since it was far from clear on how it worked, or what it was, they decided to call it dark energy.
Perlmutter says, “Here finally was something that could actually fill the gap. This energy that’s causing the universe to apparently accelerate is just what you need to fill the difference between the amount that we see in the form of mass, and the amount that would be required for the big bang theories.”
Finally none of the universe was missing. It was made of 4% atoms, the stuff we’re familiar with, 21% dark matter, that no one could find, and a whopping 75% made from a brand new dark energy, that nobody could understand. Cosmology’s new standard model was born.
But not everybody is happy with the new standard model. Professor Mike Disney is an astronomer from Cardiff University, and also the longest member of the Hubble Space Telescope Science Committee, and cosmology’s biggest skeptic. For him cosmology’s new standard model is simply an unproved theory, and not the conclusive answer it’s cracked up to be. He says, “It’s as if somebody’s put humpy dumpy together and covered him all over with plaster, and if you took all the plaster off, it might look like something completely different. So we have this situation where the whole thing is held together by entities which we don’t know exist at all and have no real physical basis.”
Disney’s world of wonder is under threat by those who support the standard model by theoretical physicists with well developed ego’s and mildly unrealistic expectations. Disney says, “Some of these cosmologists pretend the subject is nearly over, we just got to do a few more observations, and a few more computer calculations, but I think they’re missing the whole message of scientific history, which is the greatest obstacle to progress in science is the illusion of knowledge. The illusion we already know what’s going on.”
Unlike Disney, Professor Carlos Frenk has faith in the standard model, and believes he has the means to prove just how right it is. Professor is applying the standard model to make computer simulations of the universe. Carlos says, “In big simulations you need a little bit more than a big computer on the laws of physics, but not a lot more.” Frenk is trying to test the standard model by using it to make a universe from scratch. Frenk says, “When we examine the simulation the distribution of galaxies and their properties we find that it is virtually indistinguishable from the real universe of galaxies.” Disney says.” Well I think computer simulations are fascinating, but very dangerous, because what you do is you sit there with your computer and all the knobs and things, and you can always end up with something that looks like what you want to get. To go from saying that my computer simulation looks like the universe, and saying therefore the universe has the same physics as my computer simulation, that’s worlds away.”
The simulations would be easier to dismiss if they weren’t so convincing. The shadowy and unproven dark matter is used to explain real tangible things. Even the shapes of galaxies are accurately predicted. Carlos argues that his computer simulation is the first simulation that shows how using dark matter (which no one knows what it is yet) truly shows how galaxies are formed and truly resembles galaxies we see out there in the universe.
While Carlos Frenks stands by his assumptions, there will be those who disagree, lead of course by Professor Disney. Disney says, “Lets suppose I say I seen a pink elephant ok? Now this clever guy over there with his computer goes off and makes a perfect simulation of a pink elephant, and he comes and shows it to me. Now even if it looks exactly like the pink elephant I said I saw yesterday, how can it convince anybody I saw a pink elephant? Because if I say I saw a green one, he could play with the simulation to create a green one. That’s the problem.” Professor Peebles says, “I feel very uneasy about these magnificent images, even though I deeply respect Professor Carlos Frenk. I love him as a person and I love him as a scientist, and I love his movies, but I wish they weren’t so pretty, because you know they aren’t the real universe.”
The argument was in need of dire evidence, and this man thinks he’s provided it. Meet Professor Dave Spergal, America’s best astrophysicist. In 2003 Spergal helped design a satellite called WMAP. The standard model with all its dark elements was about to come of age. Spergal says, “Leading up to the WMAP data we had strong hints that we were living in a strange universe. A universe in which atoms only made up 5%, dark matter 20%, and the rest dark energy. What the WMAP data did was really confirm this, really pin it down, and really make a solid case for the standard model.”
The WMAP satellite recorded a hugely accurate map of the very beginning of the universe. It revealed minute temperature differences, and evidence of tiny cold spots where the first matter condensed out of the hot of the big bang. Spergal wanted to find out if the WMAP’s picture could have evolved into the universe we see today, and remarkably it could. Spergal says, “We went and we connected the pattern we saw in the sky with the pattern we see today, and they fit together, and only fit together if the universe had the expected composition of dark matter, atoms, and dark energy.”
The WMAP team had taken on even the most speculative and apparently outlandish claims of the standard model. Hard data now appeared to support hazy concepts like dark matter and even dark energy. Spergal says, “The WMAP observations are a really important conformation of the standard model. There were all these pieces out there that we had bits and pieces of evidence for, and here we get to tie it together in a great quantitative way, and remarkably it all fits.”
But while the theorists pat themselves on the back, its left to people like Sumner to try and find concrete evidence. So far the dark matter particle remains irritatingly illusive. So the 16 year old search at the Boulby mine goes on. The next generation of multi-million dollar dark matter detectors are in the works. Maybe this time they will get a result. Sumner says, “If science must progress, then we must do these experiments to find out which of all the speculative solutions is correct. Of course it may turn out none of them are correct, in which case we have an even deeper mystery.”
The idea that Newton was wrong, and that gravity is not constant is the only alternative to dark matter. And as dark matter continues to evade capture, ideas about variable gravity are beginning to find favor with some. Even Vera Ruben, whose observations of galaxies helped kick start the search for dark matter, supports the idea. She says, “I think it would be fun to learn that Newton’s laws had to be modified for the very very large, just as they had to be modified for the very very tiny.”
But the vast majority aren’t willing to contemplate such heresy. At the moment science is confident that none of our universe is missing, and that the standard model explains everything. Carlos says, “If it’s not right, it would require a very deep revision of our basic understanding of nature.” But then every generation’s great thinkers have worried about cosmology, and every now and then some say they think they’ve cracked it… more or less. Where ever in the past we thought we had the answers, we had some answers right, but we were missing big elements and that’s probably true now. The standard model now with its officially approved mix of atoms, dark matter and dark energy, is the latest in a long line of brilliant ideas. Weather this idea is right remains to be seen.
Ok, "SOMETHING WE CAN’T SEE IS PULLING THE STRINGS OF THE COSMOS." It's some kind of “matter” and/or energy that’s everywhere and pervades everything including every atom in the universe. It’s unseen, "can't be defined", "can't be understood", "not made of atoms", can’t be proven physically, and yet is in every atom and affects every atom in the universe. Without this unseen thing "pulling the strings of the universe", we wouldn’t be here debating anything. It won’t be long till science sees it's intelligent, & creative. Sound like a little book written about a couple thousand years ago? Science is about to look God eye to eye. Imagine that! Get ready, because it won't be long. Even scientists are about to have a "spiritual awakening". Win win situation.