July 10, 2009

How anti-matter is not anything like dark matter.

picard meets skywalker

I always sort of assumed that the galaxy far, far away (though, to be fair, all galaxies except the Milky Way are “far, far away”) was one of those theoretical galaxies made primarily out of anti-matter. Of course, if you lived in an anti-matter galaxy, you’d simply think of it as matter. To think that the Star Wars galaxy is made out of anti-matter doesn’t explain anything about the Force or anything. It just conjures up some interesting “what if?” scenarios.

Like what if Captain Picard met Luke Skywalker? It just seems to me that a messiah meeting a man of science would definitely be awkward. Though in this case, not for the obvious reasons.

So it’s often the case in science that you have two hypotheses that explain the same phenomenon. This is a good thing in most cases, because it means that there are multiple avenues in which research and experimentation can be conducted. Take, for example, the fact that there are a lot of unexplained gamma rays buzzing around the galaxy in an unexpected and unexplained distribution. It’s a mystery that’s been plaguing astronomers and physicists for some time.

You have two possible explanations for it: it’s either evidence of dark matter (matter that is undetectable and yet makes up the vast majority of the mass in the universe and has only been observed via its gravitational effects) or it’s not. In this case, it’s not. I am not altogether certain if it was an unexpected discovery or if the researchers were specifically testing this positron hypothesis.

I find it interesting because, by itself, the fact that these positrons are being generated in supernovae, flying for millions of years only to annihilate the first time they come into contact with normal matter, is not that significant–though very cool. It solves a nagging mystery that had, up until now, been considered possible evidence for dark matter. But one thing it does do, in the search for dark matter, is narrow the search down.

I’m not sure if this rules out the possibility that Dark Matter is made of Weakly interacting massive particles (WIMPs)–focusing the search on other possible forms that dark matter might take–or if WIMPs are still on the table.

In the end, it’s what you make of it. But dark matter, along with string theory and the Higgs boson, is one of those scientific enigmas that, if solved, would change our understanding of everything. And speaking of string theory, one of its predictions was confirmed and published. Totally sweet.

Singen Sie süße Lieder.

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