Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Shadow Universe

Dark matter is thought to represent most of the mass of the universe. Yet it is invisible and has so far resisted explicit detection. Now the effort to reveal it is heating up, accelerated in part by the chance to test theories in the Large Hadron Collider. From the Times article:

Dark matter has teased and obsessed astronomers since the 1930s, when the Caltech astronomer Fritz Zwicky deduced that some invisible “missing mass” was required to supply the gravitational glue to hold clusters of galaxies together. The idea became respectable in the 1970s when Vera C. Rubin of the Carnegie Institution of Washington and her collaborators found from studying the motions of stars that most galaxies seemed to be surrounded by halos of dark matter.

The stakes for dark matter go beyond cosmology. The most favored candidates for its identity come from a theory called supersymmetry, which unifies three of the four known forces of nature mathematically and posits the existence of a realm of as-yet-undiscovered particles. They would be so-called wimps — weakly interacting massive particles — which feel gravity and little else, and could drift through the Earth like wind through a screen door. Such particles left over from the Big Bang could form a shadow universe clumping together into dark clouds that then attract ordinary matter.
(image credit: NASA)