That Dark Stuff, Matter and Energy

Article written: 5 Mar , 2008
Updated: 26 Dec , 2015

Being a very hands-on-type person, I have a hard time wrapping my brain around the concepts of dark energy and dark matter. These are invisible, hypothetical stuffs that cosmologists tell us make up a combined 96% of the universe. These ubiquitous substances are unlike anything we’re familiar with. They don’t emit or reflect enough electromagnetic radiation to be detected directly, but their presence is inferred by the gravitational effect they have on everything we can see. So, scientists are trying to determine if dark energy and dark matter are really there, and if so, what they’re made of. A couple of studies have come out recently dealing with dark energy and dark matter. One study released says that what we think might be dark energy may only be tiny whiskers of carbon materials, formed in the early days of the universe. And a new experiment tried to determine if dark matter is made of particles called axions.

Andrew Steele and Marc Fries from the Carnegie Institution say that what we thought was dark energy may just be a haze of tiny whiskers of carbon, strewn across the universe and perhaps those whiskers — and not dark energy — would dim faraway objects such as supernovae. Scientists proposed the dark energy hypothesis a decade ago in part to explain the unexpected dimness of certain stellar explosions.

The researchers report discovering an unusual new form of carbon in minerals within meteorites dating from the formation of the solar system. They believe the “graphite whiskers� were likely produced from hot, carbon-rich gases that formed near stars and were blown into interstellar space by solar winds or supernovae. A thin haze of the whiskers in space would affect how light of different wave-lengths pass through space. The researchers postulated that light of near-infrared wavelengths would be particularly affected—the same wavelengths whose dimming first led to the dark energy model.

Things like these graphite whiskers have been proposed previously to possibly explain observations where dimming appeared, but the presence of any types of materials in space has never been confirmed previously, said Steele and Fries. With their discovery in the meteorite, the pair added, researchers can test the whiskers’ properties against theories and observations.

Dark matter: To make hypothetical matter, you might just need a little dash of hypothetical particles. How about axions? Axions are theoretical particles that have a small mass, about 500 million times lighter than an electron. Additionally, according to theory, an axion should have no spin. A group from the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory (Fermilab) in Batavia, Illinois designed an experiment to try to find axions.

They set up a magnetic field and shot a lazer into it. A “wall� was placed in the middle of the magnetic field as well. It was thought that the magnetic field would possibly change some of the photons from the laser into axions. The wall would stop the photons, but the axions would emerge on the other side.

They tried four different configurations of their system, unfortunately, the experiment found no evidence of new particles. But, they were able to exclude some constraints or regions where this type of particle could or could not exist.

And the data from the Fermilab experiment is still being examined. Scientist William Wester is optimistic about the role he and his colleagues are playing. “We did a serious measurement and excluded a region,� he says. “If our small experiment helps heighten awareness and leads to more experimental efforts, even using other techniques as well, it will be a huge benefit that we have done this.�

The group believes that maybe with a stronger magnetic field, it might be worth trying their experiement again.

This brings to mind something that I heard cosmologist Michael Turner say: “If I succeed in confusing you about dark matter and dark energy, then I will have brought you up to where the experts are.â€?

Original News Sources:
World Science release

23 Responses

  1. alastair says

    It’s “laser”, not “lazer”.

  2. W. Scott says

    The “carbon whiskers” explanation… well, can’t we call them filaments? Whiskers are only produced by organic creatures.

    So, these carbon filaments… please note in the oh-so-simple explanation that these filimants can form in the superheated carbon-rich gasses that surround some stars. And that, occasionally, an explosion on the surface of the star may send them hurtling into space.

    But wait, if all the stars together don’t make up 4% of the mass of the universe, then they must have been blowing off AN AWFUL LOT of carbon filiments for A LONG LONG LONG LONG LONG TIME in order to fill-up the universe with this stuff. In fact, all the stars together, working since the big bang, could not have produced THAT MUCH ejected matter of any sort, much less a very specific and elusive carbon filament.

    As for Axions… oh, don’t get me started. Quantum Mechanics is marginally adequate at explaining some spooky effects we see with particles which aren’t apparent with larger aglommerations of matter. But it also has lots of loopholes through which any number of exceedingly unlikely “theoretical particles” can creep-in.

    Remember when all the talk was about Tachyons? It was a particle with a negative mass, which–from the moment of it’s creation–moved faster than light. because it travelled faster than light, it also moved backward in time, arriving at it’s impact destination before it was actually created in the first place. Quantum physics has no problem with this kind of “theoretical” particle. Except that, as mathematically possible as it may be, it violates causality and Einstein’s theories. Moreover, it’s just silly. A particle that arrives at it’s destination before it leaves it’s point of origin? Well, a lot of people spent a few hundreds of thousands of dollars trying to find Tachyons, even though, technically, they would be utterly impossible to observe, even indirectly.

    Here we are, making up still more unlikely bits in particle physics to explain observations for which we seem to have abandoned all other explanations besides “Hmm, there must be stuff we can’t see, because things aren’t as we predicted.”

    I say, look for another explanation, like variability in what we presume to be universal constants. We already have some evidence for that, in fact.

    If there were enough carbon filaments and imaginary axions floating in space to account for 96% of the universe, then we wouldn’t be able to see distant stars at all through that kind of smog.

    It’s going to take a lot more convincing till I buy the whole Dark Matter explanation.

    Frankly, it looks a little TOO simple to be correct.

  3. Astrofiend says

    Actually W. Scott, the new theory with carbon whiskers aims to explain dark energy away. Hence, if true, we are only left with dark matter and ‘ordinary’ matter, where ordinary matter would now constitute about 25% of the universe’s mass/ energy. It’s then not too hard to imagine how the theory could be correct – it takes only VERY diffuse interstellar dust clouds to dim background stars to zero visibility in a few thousand short light years in our own galaxy, so over universal distances, only very diffuse smattering of these ‘whiskers’ would be necessary. I guess the proof or otherwise will be in the spectral analysis of the supernovae – these whiskers will surely impose their own signature absorption spectra over the supernovae spectra.

    As for the Axion explanation, it’s just another theory. But get ’em all out there I say, and let the evidence and observations sort the players from the spectators.

  4. Johnny Blues says

    I am reminded of Tin Whiskers. These are actually little gremlins that can and have caused major problems with all types of circuit boards. They grow from the solders just like whiskers and if they touch a ground -shorted relay. I believe even a sattelite was lost due to this problem. Point being, inorganics can grow whiskers too. This info can be readily googled.

  5. Bridh Hancock says

    Is so much of the Universe carbon-strands?-No. Work at it. More data, newer ideas, and slowly truth emerges, perhaps from a direction other than the Centre.

  6. Peter B says

    I thought the word is “Laser” not Lazer…(Light Amplification through Stimulated Emission of Radiation)……!!!!!!!?????

  7. Bruce says

    Whiska’s? Carbon – whiska’s? Heck, and here I thought my cats had been into the seafood & lamb!

  8. zog42 says

    Lets say that you were an alien with god-like powers and you wanted to create some life-forms. Would you let them loose in your own world? No, because if they don’t work out in a good way then they could destroy your own Universe. So you create a simulation by digging out your trusty Mega ZX Spectrum and start programming. The first thing you would do is to define some arrays in which your created universe could exist. Maybe Dark Matter/Energy are our perception of these constraints.
    For those with an ear to hear, be brave and strive to be perfect. For those that overcome will see the real Universe.

  9. Yael Dragwyla says

    As for “spooky” quantum-mechanical implications and “violation of causality,” so what? Einstein’s colleagues chided him for trying to order God around (“God does not play dice with the universe!”), and it may be that those who try to push causality too hard may end up being chided for it by reality itself. What happens at macro-levels may be no more than an average of what is to us the weird behavior of things operating on levels on which quantum mechanics is applicable. In short: we don’t have enough data to judge yet, so let’s wait and see.

  10. Kevin M. says

    The idea that gravity is pullling the universe to expand outward in all directions is so crudely oversimplified and farfetched as to be indefensible. Clearly there are other forces at work, or merely a question of perspective which we don’t yet grasp, for instance, if space wraps back on itself, then the concept of “distance” collapses into meaninglessness, doesn’t it?

    Science is also starting to observe is that there are forces at work between objects which have no physical connection whatsoever. For instance, DNA is now being observed to be astoundingly “telepathic” across relatively great distances. This perhaps postulates a level within or below physics, which some have called the “implicate order” (the readily apparent material dimension we live in is the explicate order).

    Perhaps we should just add dark energy and dark matter to the four basic universal forces and call it six basic forces. In the end, space, like time and consciousness, may remain an irrational and incomprehensible phenomena at any great distance. We may eventually decide to stick close to home, where what we percieve appears to follow rules, and accept the “telepathy” of a universe which operates as it needs to, for no reason other than to serve man.

  11. Fenring says

    I agree with W. Scott’s view of dark matter, energy and stuff.

    From the moment I first heard of this “dark stuff” I thought it was a far fetched idea and it still is. Smacks of desperation. The principles of it may turn out to be correc, but hopefuly recognized for something more appropriate.

    I may be out of the loop, but last time i looked, gravity was still a bit of a mistery compared to, for instance, electric force.

  12. JamesB says

    More than a hundred years ago scientists only had an understanding for kinetic physics and postulated that light traveled thru a medium in space referred to as “ether”. What was missing was an understanding of electromagnetic physics, which made sense of how light propagates thru a vacuum.

    Now we run into the problem where we just do not understand gravity, yet attempt to apply kinetic and electromagnetic physics to understand it. And like they did in the late 19th century/early 20th century, we make up new forms of “ether” and pat ourselves on the back for how clever we are.

    Up until the Michelson–Morley experiment, observational evidence tended to support the “ether” argument, with the same clarity that “dark energy” and “dark matter” are supported now. Yet we’re not learning from history.

    Carbon whiskers may not explain away all the problems that invoking “dark matter” tries to solve. But it is certainly able to make the “dark matter” hypothesis weaker, and presents less inconsistencies. It explains the occlusion of distant galaxies, though it doesn’t address the gravitational component that “dark matter” attempts to explain. But it’s not trying to address the gravity, only the occlusion – a point several comments above have failed to realize!

    General Relativity gave us a glimpse of what we just do not understand. It doesn’t really explain it, it simply says things are not as they seem. It opened our eyes, but left us with a big mystery that we aren’t much closer to solving because we think we understand it already (the same way of thinking that led to the theory of “ether”).

    Einstein showed us a new kind of physics, dimensional physics. And just as when Newton showed us kinetic physics, it’ll take many years to understand how it relates to the world we live in.

    It’s thru this new discipline that we’ll understand the effects now attributed to dark matter and dark energy. The same as when the quaint idea of “ether” was given up and the new discipline of electromagnetic physics came into it’s own.

    In dimensional physics, space is a product of dimension. Time is a side effect of space (and NOT a dimension in and of itself, “one way dimensions” simply do not exist).

    If you have a single dimension then time can not exist as there is no room for motion. Add a second dimension and time results as a consequence of the space that was created. Even adding more dimensions after this will not change the nature of time.

    This fits with relativity in making time travel impossible. All current theories of how relativity allows time travel to occur require a special frame of reference, which violates relativity in the first place!

    Gravity is motion between two dimensional points, movement from one potential to another. There is no graviton or Higgs boson. Mass is also a property of space.

    It may be that the search for the Higgs boson may be the latter day Michelson–Morley experiment that forever changes how we view the universe, not by showing us new things but by exposing our arrogance and ignorance so that we can finally move on.

  13. Kevin M. says

    Good points, well made.

    My current theory is that the entire hubble constant “red-shift” phenomena seems the most unlikely observation of all. Why should everything be moving away from everything else at the exact same rate? The simplest answer is that this is entirely some form of observational illusion. The “dark matter” theory has been proposed to explain this away, and sending how many scientists on a wild goose chase. The pioneer anamoly is now exhibiting an observational anomaly of the same rate as the hubble constant, but in reverse. I’m expecting that this will soon reveal the entire red-shift illusion and take dark matter away with it..

  14. Many people not yet convinced that Dark Energy is anything more than the resurrection of Einstein’s cosmological constant in order to expalin the apparent increase in the acceleration of the expansion of the universe.
    Although graphite filaments are an imaginitive attempt to explain how the data of the standard candles may be corrupted, how could graphite filaments selectively cause the apparent dimming of the majority of standard candle supernovae without significantly affecting our detection of all other distant phenomenae?
    This is a very fertile area for conjecture.

  15. Gerald Blancett says

    If dark matter really existed, the amount of dark matter mass necessary to cause the observed irregularities would logically preclude the rapid expansion of the Universe that we now have. Furthermore, I cannot conceive of such a mass that would not have pulled itself together forming very large bodies. May I suggest that our observed irregularities could be “Space Time Warp Proportional Factor”; depending upon how close a body is to the center of the Galaxy? Gerald Blancett

  16. Turning the Light on Dark Energy

    Author: Wayne Mattox,

    Imagine an eye dropper with red dye in it. Left alone, the red dye particles (calculated at 5% of the mass of the universe) are attracted to one another by gravity and will stay clumped together even if forced out with a squeeze. However, the red dye we are pondering is densely packed and that pent up energy is ready to explode as soon as it is released from the eye dropper as a droplet: conditions preceding the Big Bang.

    Suppose that we were to lower our arm and the eye dropper in a theoretical type of deep space (before the beginning of time) vacuum where the red dye will dissipate or expand into nothingness as soon as it is released, losing all its properties. Well, then this sentence would never have been typed and you would not be reading it. That is another type of universe with its own rules of time and perspective.

    No, that was not and is not the way it works, physicists conclude. Instead of a vacuum, there is an invisible grid-work of organization (comprising 20% of the universe) called dark matter. Essencially, dark matter slows down the speed and even they way in which our droplet of red dye expands.

    So, instead of lowering our arm and eyedropper into a vat of nothingness, we extend into a vat of invisible dark matter that slows down dye expansion like clear water. A drop is squeezed out: BOOM – time begins. At first the expansion of the red dye is fast. Particles expand, smash into one another forming star dust, and after a few billion years begin to coagulate into galaxies. From an ameba’s perspective within or from a godlike perspective above it would look like red dye expanding in a vat of water. Seemingly magnified by gravitational forces, dark matter keeps the dye from breaking down completely, so, given time, universal order and biological life begin to evolve.

    Then, around the year 2000, scientists decide to measure the rate at which their universe’s expansion is slowing. After all, doesn’t that pent up energy released at the beginning of time eventually lose its steam? Doesn’t a drop of red dye eventually slow down while expanding in water? History seems to say so. Astrological measurements indicate that the universe became very large, very fast and then decelerated.

    Things did not turn out as surmised, however. Scientists learned that the rate of universal expansion is not slowing, it is increasing — accelerating. While gravity and dark matter appear to be maintaining the structural integrity of planets and solar systems and even the galaxies, everything in between is expanding at an ever increasing rate!

    Perhaps even less understood than dark matter, scientists have given a name to this unknown energy that seems to be causing space itself to expand. Comprising about 75% of the hypothetically calculated remaining mass of the universe it is called, dark energy.
    Let us now suppose that the wavy, time-bending vat of dark matter was, and is, not infinite-in-mass like a hypothetical sink or crystal clear ocean to which one might add a single drop of red dye. Let us suppose that, in relationship to that beginning quantity of Big Bang energy and matter, it is a constant. As matter and energy expand, dark matter loses its grip where it is needed least, where gravity has less and less influence, in deep space. With conditions becoming closer and closer to that first imagined universe without dark matter, more and more like the theoretical space vacuum, the expansion of the universe speeds up, creating and ever-increasing rate of dark matter depletion and more and more space expansion: Very similar to the snowballing acceleration constant put forth and dismissed by Einstein and recently reintroduced by astrological physicists.

    Thus, dark matter was possibly created during the ultra-dense super-gravity period preceding the Big Bang, is gravity-dependent, and because it is decaying in relationship to the size of the universe “dark energy” may not need to exist at all.

    W.M. 203-263-2899

  17. Pete says

    Will we ever know the truth about Dark Energy?

  18. I just wrote an essay trying to inject a little levity into the whole topic of dark energy:

    Ellen Jackson, author

  19. Steve says

    I’ve had this idea nagging my perhaps over-simplistic brain for quite a while now, and no-one I’ve spoken to so far has been able to tell me otherwise, so I’d appreciate if someone could explain to me why this is not so.
    Here goes……
    In a dualistic universe, if this universe is ‘everything’, then it must be expanding into ‘nothing’ (i.e. a vacuum), which would, if my understanding is correct, be sucking everything outwards in all directions.
    As each component is moving away from every other component the gravitational influence of each object would decrease, resulting in an accelerated expansion of the universe.
    As you can probably tell, I’m no physicist, and I do strongly suspect that my notion is far too naive and simplistic an explanation, but as I wrote earlier, no-one I know (People with various degrees and PHDs in other branches of science than astronomy) can explain otherwise, even in scientific terminology, so if someone could point me in a direction which would clarify to me why this is not the case please do so as this idea just won’t leave me alone.
    Someone please put me out of my misery.
    Thanks in advance.

  20. Laz says

    help me figure this out

  21. mitra says

    Indian mythological “Ishwar Tatva” is the concept very near to Dark matter. The subtle matter “Ishwar Tattva” is not only the cause of creation or gradual synthesis of matter but also the progenitor of different fields.
    Initially our Universe was filled up by such a medium, The medium was distributed homogeneously through out the universe having properties as under.
    It was made up of very tiny particle several thousand time smaller then electron, these momentum carrying particles were moving randomly in all possible directions with tremendous speed (of the order light travels in space). Here and after these particles are called Momentisons. These particles ordinarily exhibit all such properties as considered in kinetic theory.
    These particles agglomerate in special circumstances to make bigger and bigger particles such as nucleons and other particles. Agglomerated big particles when come closer changes the local distribution of the medium itself, hence creating different fields popularly known as Gravitational, Electrostatic, Weak and nuclear depending on the relative size and distance of two or more particles…………
    The concept starts with very simple logic, there is nothing illogical to gulp, not only it explains all about the dark matter/ fields but by supporting “Steady state theory” it describes the creation of Universe starting from the synthesis of first nucleon to the last stage of matter “The Black Holes”…………

    That is all GRAND-GRAND UNIFICATION theory

  22. Steve says

    I came back here a few times to see if anyone had answered my question, but thought the thread had died on me.
    I like the Indian mythological theory. It makes sense to me, a bit like condensation, if I understand correctly, and I’m philosophically inclined anyway, as it helps me to think along lines that are less rooted in the purely materialistic view of the multi/universe.
    Plus I reckon an inward exploration of these ideas can provide explanations in an ‘as above, so below’ kind of way.
    Anyway, I’ve come up with an alternative or expanded idea, where if there are other universes beyond ours, perhaps their gravitational pull is causing our own universe to expand and speed up………..
    Just a thought.

  23. john drake says

    I think dark matter or dark energy are theoretical concepts based on our lack of understanding of gravity itself.

    The hopothesized graviton is yet to be found, but the belief that gravity is caused matter persists.

    What we observe as gravity may simply be the way matter interacts with an existing gravitational field.

    I may be possible that our universe exists not in SpaceTime, but in SpaceTimeGravity.

    No need then for gravitons, dark matter or dark energy.

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