Dark Matter and Dark Energy… the Same Thing?

by Fraser Cain on February 6, 2008

Dr. Zhao
I’ve said it many times, but it bears repeating: regular matter only accounts for 4% of the Universe. The other 96% – dark matter and dark energy – is a total mystery. Wouldn’t it be convenient if we could find a single explanation for both? Astronomers from the University of St. Andrews are ready to decrease the mysteries down to one.

Dr. HongSheng Zhao at the University of St. Andrews School of Physics and Astronomy has developed a model that shows how dark energy and dark matter are more closely linked than previously thought.

Dr Zhao points out, “Both dark matter and dark energy could be two faces of the same coin. “As astronomers gain understanding of the subtle effects of dark energy in galaxies in the future, we will solve the mystery of astronomical dark matter at the same time.”

Just a quick explainer. Dark energy was discovered in the late 1990s during a survey of distant supernova. Instead of finding evidence that the mutual gravity of all the objects in the Universe is slowing down its expansion, researchers discovered that its expansion is actually accellerating.

Dark matter was first theorized back in 1933 by Swiss astronomer Fritz Zwicky. He noted that galaxies shouldn’t be able to hold themselves together with just the regular matter we can see. There must be some additional, invisible matter surrounding the regular matter that provides the additional gravitational force to hold everything together.

And since their discoveries plenty of additional evidence for both dark energy and dark matter have been seen across the Universe.

In Dr. Zhao’s model, dark energy and dark matter the same thing that he calls a “dark fluid”. On the scale of galaxies, this fluid behaves like matter, providing a gravitational force. And in the large scales, the fluid helps drive the expansion of the Universe.

Dr. Zhao’s model is detailed enough to produce the same 3:1 ratio of dark energy to dark matter measured by cosmologists.

Of course, any theory like this only gains ground when it starts making predictions that can be tested through observation. Dr. Zhao expects the work at the Large Hadron Collider to be fruitless. If he’s right, dark matter particles will have such low energy that the collider won’t be able to generate them.

The paper was recently published in the Astrophysical Journal Letters in December 2007, and Physics Review D. 2007.

Original Source: University of St. Andrews News Release


Fraser Cain is the publisher of Universe Today. He's also the co-host of Astronomy Cast with Dr. Pamela Gay.

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