In the world of astrophysics, it’s very difficult to assimilate the vast magnitude of it all. Time is measured in millions of light-years, distances only make sense at the speed of light, and the mysteries outnumber the stars above.
The most radical change will take place in the field of “dark matter,”
With this in mind, stating that we live in a pivotal time in terms of our understanding of the universe would be an unusual affirmation, something risky to say, but nonetheless accurate, according to scientists.
Perhaps the most radical change will take place with the subject of “dark matter,” one of the greatest enigmas for scientists today. The problem seems to be a simple one, but the solutions have been eluding them for decades. Until now.
The major melon-scratcher is that their calculations aren’t working out; the visible matter in the universe doesn’t justify the gravitational effects scientists have observed; therefore, there must be a different matter that is not visible, since it doesn’t emit or absorb light.
It’s not a minor error either: According to the most recent calculations, the universe as we know it is made up of 4.9 percent visible matter, 26.8 percent dark matter, and 68.3 percent dark energy (the latter being responsible for the acceleration in the expansion of the universe that has been detected in the last 15 years, of which little is known and research is still in its infancy). Consequently, the search for dark matter in our universe has become one of the greatest scientific endeavors of our time.
Even though this mass is plentiful, physicists don’t know what makes up dark matter. Aside from WIMPs (weakly interacting massive particles), scientists believe, dark matter could also be made up of axioms, particles that are lighter and colder than WIMPs.
Scientists are predicting that the answers will come in a few years, thanks to increasing efforts to detect elusive dark matter throughout the world.
China will begin its search for dark matter in the universe once its PandaX (Particle and Astrophysical Xenon) is operational; this is China’s $8 million experimental facility in the Sichuan province.
There are other similar centers around the world, like the XENON in Italy and the LUX (Large Underground Xenon) in the United States. The latter began operating in 2013.
All these detectors function in the same way: Huge tanks of liquid xenon are buried at great depths to avoid any type of interference from high-energy cosmic rays. The objective is to detect collisions between the WIMPs and the xenon atoms.
These, however, aren’t the only instruments that scientists have at their disposition for detecting dark matter. Since 2011, the International Space Station carries with it an Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (AMS). And in 2015, the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) in Switzerland will begin an experiment to create a type of dark matter called supersymmetric.
Thanks to these recent efforts, physicist Gianfranco Bertone of Amsterdam University claims that scientists will have significant proof of the existence of dark matter in the upcoming years, which would mean “a fundamental change in the model.”
Better knowledge of dark matter could help scientists comprehend the size of the universe, its shape and even its future, since the actual mass would determine if the universe is open (and it will expand infinitely), closed (and it expands and then collapses) or flat (and its expansion halts when it reaches a point of balance).
Changes in the interpretation of the universe could be quite dramatic, because it could mean that theories forming the basis of physics, like Albert Einstein’s general theory of relativity, are not accurate.
A recent proof of the fluidity of the world of astrophysics, and the depths of the mysteries of the universe, comes from the admired cosmologist Stephen Hawking. The British theoretical physicist, compared by many to Einstein himself, predicted in 1974 the existence of the fascinating “black holes,” points in space where gravitational force is so strong that not even light can escape it.
Since then, black holes have become one of the most intriguing physical theories that have captured the public’s imagination. But in January, Hawking released a short article in which the venerated scientist seems to reject his own theory, denying what until now has been a key element.
“The absence of event horizons means that black holes don’t exist, in the sense that light can’t escape infinity,” said Hawking. “However, there are apparent horizons that persist during a period of time. This suggests that black holes should be redefined as metastable states, linked to gravitational fields,” added the 72-year-old scientist.
What Hawking suggests now is that black holes are in fact “gray,” something that has baffled the scientific community, since it literally opens a door that would allow them to look in the interior of a black hole.
A new universe is just around the corner.