New Theory of Gravity Does Away With Need for Dark Matter

Article Updated: 26 Nov , 2016

Erik Verlinde explains his new view of gravity

Let’s be honest. Dark matter’s a pain in the butt. Astronomers have gone to great lengths to explain why is must exist and exist in huge quantities, yet it remains hidden. Unknown. Emitting no visible energy yet apparently strong enough to keep galaxies in clusters from busting free like wild horses, it’s everywhere in vast quantities. What is the stuff – axions, WIMPS, gravitinos, Kaluza Klein particles?

Estimated distribution of matter and energy in the universe. Credit: NASA

Estimated distribution of matter and energy in the universe. Credit: NASA

It’s estimated that 27% of all the matter in the universe is invisible, while everything from PB&J sandwiches to quasars accounts for just 4.9%.  But a new theory of gravity proposed by theoretical physicist Erik Verlinde of the University of Amsterdam found out a way to dispense with the pesky stuff.

formation of complex symmetrical and fractal patterns in snowflakes exemplifies emergence in a physical system.

Snowflakes exemplify the concept of emergence with their complex symmetrical and fractal patterns created when much simpler pieces join together. Credit: Bob King

Unlike the traditional view of gravity as a fundamental force of nature, Verlinde sees it as an emergent property of space.  Emergence is a process where nature builds something large using small, simple pieces such that the final creation exhibits properties that the smaller bits don’t. Take a snowflake. The complex symmetry of a snowflake begins when a water droplet freezes onto a tiny dust particle. As the growing flake falls, water vapor freezes onto this original crystal, naturally arranging itself into a hexagonal (six-sided) structure of great beauty. The sensation of temperature is another emergent phenomenon, arising from the motion of molecules and atoms.

So too with gravity, which according to Verlinde, emerges from entropy. We all know about entropy and messy bedrooms, but it’s a bit more subtle than that. Entropy is a measure of disorder in a system or put another way, the number of different microscopic states a system can be in. One of the coolest descriptions of entropy I’ve heard has to do with the heat our bodies radiate. As that energy dissipates in the air, it creates a more disordered state around us while at the same time decreasing our own personal entropy to ensure our survival. If we didn’t get rid of body heat, we would eventually become disorganized (overheat!) and die.

The more massive the object, the more it distorts spacetime. Credit: LIGO/T. Pyle

The more massive the object, the more it distorts space-time, shown here as the green mesh. Earth orbits the Sun by rolling around the dip created by the Sun’s mass in the fabric of space-time. It doesn’t fall into the Sun because it also possesses forward momentum. Credit: LIGO/T. Pyle

Emergent or entropic gravity, as the new theory is called, predicts the exact same deviation in the rotation rates of stars in galaxies currently attributed to dark matter. Gravity emerges in Verlinde’s view from changes in fundamental bits of information stored in the structure of space-time, that four-dimensional continuum revealed by Einstein’s general theory of relativity. In a word, gravity is a consequence of entropy and not a fundamental force.

Space-time, comprised of the three familiar dimensions in addition to time, is flexible. Mass warps the 4-D fabric into hills and valleys that direct the motion of smaller objects nearby. The Sun doesn’t so much “pull” on the Earth as envisaged by Isaac Newton but creates a great pucker in space-time that Earth rolls around in.

In a 2010 article, Verlinde showed how Newton’s law of gravity, which describes everything from how apples fall from trees to little galaxies orbiting big galaxies, derives from these underlying microscopic building blocks.

His latest paper, titled Emergent Gravity and the Dark Universe, delves into dark energy’s contribution to the mix.  The entropy associated with dark energy, a still-unknown form of energy responsible for the accelerating expansion of the universe, turns the geometry of spacetime into an elastic medium.

“We find that the elastic response of this ‘dark energy’ medium takes the form of an extra ‘dark’ gravitational force that appears to be due to ‘dark matter’,” writes Verlinde. “So the observed dark matter phenomena is a remnant, a memory effect, of the emergence of spacetime together with the ordinary matter in it.”

Rotation curve of the typical spiral galaxy M 33 (yellow and blue points with errorbars) and the predicted one from distribution of the visible matter (white line). The discrepancy between the two curves is accounted for by adding a dark matter halo surrounding the galaxy. Credit: Public domain / Wikipedia

This diagram shows rotation curves of stars in M33, a typical spiral galaxy. The vertical scale is speed and the horizontal is distance from the galaxy’s nucleus. Normally, we expect stars to slow down the farther they are from galactic center (bottom curve), but in fact they revolve much faster (top curve). The discrepancy between the two curves is accounted for by adding a dark matter halo surrounding the galaxy. Credit: Public domain / Wikipedia

I’ll be the first one to say how complex Verlinde’s concept is, wrapped in arcane entanglement entropy, tensor fields and the holographic principal, but the basic idea, that gravity is not a fundamental force, makes for a fascinating new way to look at an old face.

Physicists have tried for decades to reconcile gravity with quantum physics with little success. And while Verlinde’s theory should be rightly be taken with a grain of salt, he may offer a way to combine the two disciplines into a single narrative that describes how everything from falling apples to black holes are connected in one coherent theory.

, , , , , , ,

30 Responses

  1. bane_m says:

    In a light of latest researches (results were published in Nature) with 700 times more stars of Type A, it appears that conclusion about dark matter and dark energy are based on not enough reliable facts (and those guys need to return a Nobel prize I think). The concept of these 2 is really on thin line and I would not be surprised at all if anything called “dark” actually does not exists.

    The article that I have on mind is this

    • tsuchan says:

      In the light of a really clear explanation about the ‘Nature’ research paper in this edition of PBS Space Time, readers may want to think twice before ditching dark energy. (^_-)

    • Torbjörn Larsson says:

      You must think of another article, the one you use claim that you can’t tell whether there is DM or not for sure. But that is a marginal result, and just one out of many evidences for DM. (I list them in another comment.)

      TL,DR: DM is here to stay. You can argue against it, but that is futile. And there is no longer gaps (like the now closed one for spiral galaxies that the article is erroneously based on) for alternative models, unless they are better across the board. And that is a tall order!

    • AXIOM-17 says:

      Can you provide a link to the original paper?

  2. Torbjörn Larsson says:


    Click bait, as it totally does not, even if we assume for sake of discussion that it would predict the behavior of spiral galaxies better than the Cold Dark Matter + supernova flow models do. (Which modified gravity models do not since of last year.) There are too many observations of DM that remains, such as *every other structure*, the DM peak in the cosmic background [ ], cluster collisions, et cetera et cetera.

    Xkcd got so fed up, so he responded with humor, the best antidote to The Dumb we know of:

    [ ]

  3. orionmgomg says:

    Motion of Matter Equals Gravity = Energy ( + ~ 10 % )

    The motion of Matter through the “Dark Energy Field” or “Space-Time” is the cause of Gravity and Energy – it’s the very motion that is creating gravity and energy

    So, in a Galaxy, the density of the mass will increase in exact proportion to the distance from the center, this is of course referring to the structure of most Galaxies as most are spiral galaxies, where there is a central hub, and the mass is rotating around the hub, therefore, if you are out on the edge of the hub, you will be moving FASTER that if you are closer to the center!

    Because you are moving faster the further out you get, you also become heavier, this explains why a galaxy rotates the way it does, and does not spiral like a vortex, but is rotating more like a wheel

    Gravity is defined as the Electromagnetic force that Matter/Energy exerts on the Universe, on Dark Energy/Space that causes a “Dark Energy Field Effect” or Gravity

    Gravity is not some magic pulling in force, Gravity is the distortion that Matter exerts on Space-Time or Dark Energy that gives matter the appearance of self attraction, but in reality, its matter pushing Space/Dark Energy away from itself and its Dark Energy pushing back – as the Matter’s distortion fields touch each other, they create a path of least resistance, so its Dark Energy pushing on the side with the least resistance that is actually pushing all matter together!

    Here is a simple 1 minute video

    You can Google “The Right Side of Dark Energy – a Universal Construct” for more on this…

    Orion Michael Guy?

  4. BCstargazer says:

    Thanks Bob
    I think it’s an interesting hypothesis rather than a theory
    really interesting 🙂

    • Bob King says:

      Thanks BC. He calls it a theory throughout, so I stuck with that. I agree that it may be more of a hypothesis, but it was hard to make the call. I read the paper, and it’s clear in some parts, very arcane in others, so I couldn’t properly judge whether theory or hypothesis would be more appropriate.

      • Pvt.Pantzov says:

        I appreciate that you posted it. this is one of those topics that invites thinking outside of the box.

      • BCstargazer says:

        As this pertain to a scientific matter, then it’s an hypothesis as a theory can and has been tested and confirmed.
        Gravity, Evolution, Relativity or Germ Diseases are not informed guesses…
        Nevertheless, this paper is very interesting, worthy of reading more than once and definitely more investigations using the scientific method.

  5. haplo says:

    You meant 84.5% of all the matter in the universe is invisible; 27% is of all the stuff the universe is made off.

    • Vic says:

      4.9% is the baryonic matter, which what makes up ordinary matter, hence the observable universe. Whereas 27% is the non-ordinary matter, aka Dark Matter, which is invisible, that is detected by its gravitational effects on ordinary matter and light, hence Einstein’s infamous “gravitational lensing,” which is bending light. That makes the total amount of matter in the universe, ordinary and dark, to be 31.7% of which 4.9% visible and 26.8% invisible. That’s why the observable universe is only 4.9%.

  6. DrakTheDrake says:

    Though I’m eager to see how this new theory plays out. Anything to help explain dark matter would be great.

  7. joseph2237 says:

    Gravity isn’t an Emergent or a force, gravity is itself a Dimension. Always present and always waiting for the next meal of matter. The gravitational field of a Black Hole can strip away the first three dimensions to allow matter to be compressed to billions of solar masses. The enormous power needed to do that can only be done by another dimension. No doubt the energy released could be the source of jets coming from a feeding black hole. Scientist have for too long glossed over how matter is crush in a BH it is time to explain what process can result in the compression of a billion solar masses.

  8. Aubri says:

    If dark matter were merely an artifact of the way gravity works, all dark matter effects should “stick” to normal matter. So doesn’t the Bullet Cluster disprove this with its clear separation between its luminous and dark gravity sources?

  9. altizar says:

    I’m more willing to entertain the concept that physics acts different on a cosmological scale than imaginary matter that doesn’t exist. We’ve already proven that physics acts different on a quantum scale, so It’s not too far of a stretch to believe in.

  10. btraymd says:

    I would like to emphasize that there is absolutely no verification that dark matter or dark energy exist. Despite 20 years and billions of dollars there has been no confirmation of this theory. That is a big red flag.
    The reason the theory was put forth in the first place was due to the failure of the gravity based standard model to account for star and galaxy formation. Mathematical gymnastics were then employed to salvage the failed model and the concept of dark matter/dark energy were created. But they have never been observed or experimentally verified.
    Yet mainstream cosmologists persist in treating this theory as if it is an accepted fact….it is not. The problem with this stubborn fixation on a gravity based model is that they are ignoring other forces which may actually be responsible for galaxy and star formation.
    There is extensive evidence accumulating that electromagnetism is the driving force for the structure of the observable universe. Massive magnetic fields have now been documented surrounding galaxies, stars and galactic centers referred to as black holes. These magnetic fields exist in conjunction with massive flows of charged particles (current) that have been documented between stars and at the intergalactic level as well (IBEX Mission, Astrophysical Journal Oct 2015 Supplement).
    These forces have been experimentally shown (Peratt, Los Alamos) to account for spiral galaxy formation without the need for dark matter, dark energy or black holes. His models have been reproduced in plasma physics labs across the country. His models used only plasma, electric current and magnetic fields.
    As far as gravity is concerned, there is an excellent theory put forth by Wal Thornhill which is elegantly explained in his presentation ” The Long Road to Understanding Gravity”. He essentially makes the case that gravity is a weak form of electromagnetism caused by dipole alignment at the atomic level.
    At the 2009 NASA sponsored Goddard Colloquim on Engineering Dr. Donald Scott presented some excellent interpretations of recent NASA data using the principles of electrical engineering and plasma physics. Everything he described is being confirmed by recent radio telescope data.
    It would seem prudent to further investigate a simple model that conforms to accepted scientific principles and is consistent with observed data. Occam’s Razor would be best served by studying any model that does not require unproven theories such as dark matter which today is nothing more than science fiction.

    • Stephen Farrugia says:

      Occam’s Razor would best be served by a simpler understanding, everyone should agree.

      The hypothesis here cannot be simpler and explains everything in simple terms

    • Vic says:

      Electromagnetism is basically the flow of free electrons as charged particles in conductors through potential difference/voltage, which generates a perpendicular magnetic field, and vice versa. If gravity was a weak form of electromagnetism, then how is it that all matter is affected by it?

  11. parallel400 says:

    The nature laws are simple. The equation of dark matter can be M = e c2 where 2 is an exponent. There may be a 3-D time and 1-D space to include dark matter. Thus, there will be an 8-D space-time totally: 4 dimensions for ordinary matter, and another 4 dimensions for dark matter. Since dark matter particles exist only in a 3-D time and 1-D space of the 8-D space-time, we can never detect them directly. However, dark matter interacts with ordinary matter through gravitational force. Dark photon has mass, but it has no energy. The speed of dark photon is c seconds/meter because it travels in 3-D time and 1-D space. We can also calculate the energies and rest masses of dark particles as follows:

    Energy of Dark Electron = 5.685630065 peV
    Rest Mass of Dark Electron = 81.87105647 fkg

    Energy of Dark Proton = 10.43968485 neV
    Rest Mass of Dark Proton = 150.3277593 pkg

    Energy of Dark Neutron = 10.4540751 neV
    Rest Mass of Dark Neutron = 150.5349738 pkg

    1 neV = 14.39964534 pkg / c2
    1 neV.c2 = 14.39964534 pkg

    p stands for pico- and n for nano.

  12. sedumjoy says:

    I thought string theory was the perfect theory for gravity? The old graviton falls right out in string theory. Maybe emergent gravitons Now with stings extra dimensions , I wonder what emergent effects fall out of those. No pun intended. Well , look at this way there is no need to unify the all fundamental forces. You are almost done ! There are two already , just one more to go. Unless of course you can get the other fundamental forces to emerge as well. You know I just saw a lecture by Arkani-Amed ” The end of space time”. Little does he know he can’t get rid of space time yet because this fellow in Amsterdam needs it to emerge gravity.

  13. crocodilebomb says:

    The scrawled expressions are good, nice shaky handheld shots intercut, the sweater. But It’s not science until you’ve got at least three youtubes like that and some cool animations to go with them. It needs that sciencey music too, we’ve got to have some academic standards. I would also suggest working this in with interplanetary exploration, like take make a warp drive out of it. Elastic Entropy Propulsion would allow humans to travel to the nearest star and back within three years.

    • weeasle says:

      Fuzzy sweater and even fuzzier formulae.. If Dr. Verlinde appears next time with a pipe I will be forced to read the paper.

  14. Ciaran says:

    I remember listening to a podcast recently about Click Bait vs Clear Science regarding astronomy. It’s a pity no one involved in writing this headline is involved with that show…

  15. JCown1973 says:

    Gravity does not exist. Gravity is just perpetual falling. In the aspect of the universe moving, every second you stand still you are actually some place else. Even standing still you are traveling 515,000 miles per hour. If you think larger it is just force / energy that is keeping you on what you think is the ground. The super massive black hole at the center is the drain and the force that propels us and is the “drain” that everything goes around. The larger the object the more “ripple” it makes and we think that we are in “orbit” but are actually caught in the ripple of the sun which is caught in the ripple of the black hole. The force applied by an object is unilaterally applied. That is why in the formation of a planet it is spherical. Things are felt heavier on more mass objects and thus make a more forceful ripple.

  16. Vic says:

    “We find that the elastic response of this ‘dark energy’ medium takes the form of an extra ‘dark’ gravitational force that appears to be due to ‘dark matter’,” writes Verlinde. “So the observed dark matter phenomena is a remnant, a memory effect, of the emergence of spacetime together with the ordinary matter in it.”

    But empirical science has always adjudicated that the total amount of baryonic matter in the universe (the 4.9%) is not enough to generate the amount of gravity observed in the universe.

  17. Frances Day says:

    So, if gravity is not considered a “fundamental force” where does that leave us with gravitational waves? Since LIGO has detected these at least twice, I guess we can say they exist. But wouldn’t they need to be created by a force?

  18. Nikola Milovic says:

    All that has so far investigated to find out the structure of the universe, rests on a completely wrong understanding of nature and its laws. Surprising fact that the majority of scientists, who want to learn the truth about the organization of the universe. Surrender to the acceptance of the theory that are still not in anything made any knowledge. How these people can learn the structure of the universe, when not about himself does not know anything, not even interest them.
    In the formation of matter, there is a gravity as unbalanced state between matter and ether from which matter is formed. Gravity has the task of matter gathers in heaps mass, so long as we do not achieve the critical mass and gravity, when the matter is transformed back into a form from which the air is formed. This is done through a black hole from which there is no turning back, Can not photons can not be made. That closes the circle appearance and disappearance of matter and, of course, it will be renewed. Dark matter, dark energy, the Big Bang, the expansion of the universe, the multiverse theory of relativity, Lorentz transformation, that’s nonsense, that pollute our consciousness, leading us knowing the true causes of the phenomenon in general.
    How can one make a conclusion about anything, if it does not know how matter was formed and what it represents. Today’s science has no insight in explaining what it is: matter, energy, heat, gravity, magnetism, electrical charge and everything related to their formation.
    It is better to get around this is not true stupid and illogical items for which no babe charmers not a bad way to describe these natural phenomena.

Comments are closed.