Did scientists just discover dark matter?
One of the biggest mysteries of physics may not be a mystery for much longer.
Scientists think that most of the universe is made of dark matter. If you don't know what dark matter is, that's okay. Neither do scientists.
Dark matter is a mysterious substance that does a really good job of balancing out astronomers' equations. It's a mathematical placeholder, an interstellar John Doe. So nobody knows what the stuff actually is. As my college astronomy teacher put it, "It could be dirty gym socks."
No one has has ever actually seen dark matter ... until, possibly, now. A team of researchers from Arizona State University and Tel Aviv University may have, for the first time ever, detected dark matter.
"Basically, it’s worth two Nobel Prizes if the detection is correct,” Harvard astrophysicist Avi Loeb, who was not part of the study, told Gizmodo.
Long ago, before the first stars in the universe formed, everything was just a gaseous swirl. The scientists who conducted this study detected that gas, and what they found surprised them. The gas was colder than they expected. And what could have cooled it down?
You guessed it. Dark matter. The scientists think they found echoes of dark matter interacting with the other matter.
"Dark matter is the key to unlocking the mystery of what the universe is made of," explained Rennan Barkana, an astrophysicist at Tel Aviv University who worked on the study. "We know quite a bit about the chemical elements that make up the earth, the sun and other stars, but most of the matter in the universe is invisible and known as 'dark matter.' The existence of dark matter is inferred from its strong gravity, but we have no idea what kind of substance it is. Hence, dark matter remains one of the greatest mysteries in physics.
"To solve it, we must travel back in time. Astronomers can see back in time, since it takes light time to reach us. We see the sun as it was eight minutes ago, while the immensely distant first stars in the universe appear to us on earth as they were billions of years in the past."
Of course, there are other explanations for their discovery. Maybe their instruments malfunctioned. Maybe an ice cream dimension opened up in the early universe and dumped a bunch of mint chocolate chip soft serve all over the early cosmos. We hope so. We really want to write that article.
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