21Dec2017

New Hypothesis Offers Alternative to Dark Matter

NASA - X-ray data from Chandra blue of the Perseus galaxy cluster

Image credit: X-ray: NASA/CXO/Fabian et al.; Radio: Gendron-Marsolais et al.; NRAO/AUI/NSF Optical: NASA, SDSS Image Source URL

Dark matter has been the basis of what makes up most of the universe for years, or so we thought. It’s aptly named since we can’t see it anywhere, and we haven’t been able to prove it exists.

However, it was pretty much the best guess we had for a very long time, and there was some evidence to support the idea. Now, the theory may be less sure than we thought.

Dark Matter and Its Conception

At first, scientists had trouble understanding galaxies. The stars on the outer edges would be expected to fly out away from the galaxy. Instead, they hold on. This provided the first indications of a force that would hold the galaxies together, but no one was sure what it was. It got the exciting name of dark matter.

The concept of dark energy came to be in the ‘90s when scientists got confused about how the universe was expanding. By all expected regulations, the universe expansion should slow down as everything gets farther away. This is because the matter in the universe provides the gravity, so it would make sense that gravitational force would start pulling everything back together. We see the same idea in a microenvironment when we look at galaxies, where a supermassive black hole uses its gravitational force to draw the rest of the matter toward it.

What they found was the opposite. Instead of slowing down, the universe was expanding faster than before. This was not in the plans, and it didn’t make much sense with the laws of physics as we understand them. So the next idea scientists came up with was dark energy. It was a matter that we couldn’t see, couldn’t detect and that light didn’t interact with. There wasn’t a real way to prove it was there, but it did work to account for a rapidly expanding universe, instead of a slowing one.

Like all theories in science, without proof, it’s not a fact. This leaves the matter of figuring out what makes up the 80 percent of the universes that aren’t made up of light or matter up in the air. Now, there’s another theory that’s challenging the idea of dark matter.

The Physics of Nothing

André Maeder, a Swiss astrophysicist, has another idea about what’s holding the universe together. According to Maeder, it could be that empty space is scale invariant. This study, published in The Astrophysical Journal, is another way of saying that if you have an area of nothing, then you should be able to make the area larger or smaller without changing any of its properties. Think of a vacuum. There’s nothing there — no air, no molecules, nothing. So increasing or decreasing the area shouldn’t alter anything about the nothingness that exists.

Maeder claims that when considering the universe in this way, we no longer need to account for 80 percent of the missing matter. Instead, this leads to some additional matter that only occurs at very low densities. However, whether this kind of pure, empty space exists is not known.

According to Einstein’s theory of relativity, so-called empty space is made up of space-time. This is the fabric that bends with the forces of gravity and has been confirmed over and over again in multiple experiments. Maeder’s idea is directly in contrast to Einstein’s, which is problematic. That doesn’t necessarily mean it’s automatically wrong, though. For a long time, we’ve understood that our view of physics is incomplete. Einstein’s relativity does not mesh with Newton’s laws of motion, but Newton’s ideas are still accurate on a smaller scale.

This idea of a scale–invariant space accounts for the things that dark matter and dark energy are supposed to account for, but at a significant price. It’s such an unusual theory that many scientists and astronomers are reluctant to accept the idea. As the saying goes, extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, and so far, that evidence simply isn’t available.

The idea of a scale-invariant universe is intriguing. There’s not enough evidence for it to be accepted by the scientific community yet, but it’s exciting because it’s the first new, groundbreaking idea in a while that has a chance to get some traction. We won’t know anything for sure for a while yet, but watching the development of this idea is incredible.

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Written By: Megan Ray Nichols – Associate Editor of Astro Space News

Megan is also a freelance science writer & the Editor of Schooled By Science.

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