Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Dark Quest for Dark Matter


Almost two years ago, I wrote a blog about the effects of gravity and wondered when we would have a better understanding of this powerful force. Earlier this year, we came several steps closer to understanding gravity when researchers at LIGO detected gravitational waves. In my article about gravity, I also commented that “there may be as much as five times more dark matter than ordinary matter in the universe.” Dark matter is non-luminous material that does not interact with radiation (visible light and other portions of the spectrum). At least, that was the accepted understanding of dark matter at the time; but that view has been called into question in 2016 by the results of two experiments that failed to detect dark matter despite the elegant systems established to do just that. Now researchers are wondering if dark matter exists at all. This is a great reminder that scientific theories of the universe are ever in flux. What is today accepted as a model for how things work in our universe may, on the basis of a few experiments, be discarded tomorrow. Now, let’s be careful here; let’s not get confused. This does not mean that the scientific method is inaccurate. In fact, this demonstrates that science is a powerful tool for understanding our universe. For, if the method truly works, it will find some theories to be correct and will prove other theories to be incorrect. The fact that these two experiments failed to find dark matter gives us greater confidence in science, even as they cause us to question the existence of dark matter.

So, three experiments in 2016, which all ranked high in the top news stories of the year, show us that there is still much mystery to our universe. They also show us that we can trust in the logic and methodology of science. Gravitational waves are real, and we are uncertain as to the existence of dark matter. What might 2017 teach us?

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