The significance of dark matter
In the field of astrophysics, dark matter has emerged as an important concept. It is called “dark” because it has yet to be detected, and no one yet knows what the stuff really is. The purpose of the present sample essay is to explore the significance of dark matter. The essay will begin with a general overview of the concept. Then, it will proceed to consider the scientific implications of dark matter. Finally, the essay will reflect on how the idea of dark matter could perhaps open up new vistas to the imagination regarding the nature of the universe.
Overview of the concept of dark matter
Dark matter has never been observed. Rather, it is a hypothesized elementary particle that must be assumed to exist, if current models of how the universe works are to hang together. As Biello has written:
“Dark matter originates from our efforts to explain the observed mismatch between the gravitational mass and the luminous mass of galaxies and clusters of galaxies” (paragraph 2).
Galaxies are behaving in ways that contradict theories and models regarding the nature of gravity; they are acting as if an additional, high-mass particle is present, even though that variable has never been detected, given that this particle seems to not interact with other particles in such a way that it emits detectable light. This is why this hypothesized particle has been given the name of dark matter.
The concept of dark matter is related to the concept of dark energy, which is a force that is also hypothesized and also can’t be seen. According to National Geographic,
“the visible universe is only 5 percent of the universe as a whole, with dark matter constituting 25 percent of the universe and dark energy constituting the remaining 70 percent of the universe” (paragraph 1).
We know that dark matter must exist, because we already know things about the laws of gravitation, and if dark matter did not exist, then those laws would have to be all wrong. This seems impossible, and the more probable answer seems to be that dark matter and dark energy do in fact exist, even though we cannot currently detect them in any way other than mathematical models.
Scientific implications of dark matter
The existence of dark matter is a huge mystery for science, given the simple fact that science deals with things that are physically observable, whereas no method yet devised has been able to actually observe dark matter in a direct way. The mathematical models suggest that dark has a huge effect on the universe, and yet no has been able to see it. From a scientific perspective, this is disconcerting, to say the least.
Dark matter is also important because scientists do not know precisely how much of it there is in the universe, which also means that they do not know the exact mass of the universe. The mass of the universe is closely related to the ultimate fate of the universe: depending on its mass, it may someday start to contract in on itself (the Big Crunch), continue to expand indefinitely (the Big Freeze), or simply level out in an asymptotic manner. Without knowing more about dark matter, it is impossible to know which of these options is the true one.
Dark matter and a connection to spirits
The existence of dark matter potentially opens up avenues of connection between science and religion. For example, dark matter is defined as an undetectable something that nevertheless has huge effects on the entire cosmos—which is also how spirit has often traditionally been defined.
The novelist Philip Pullman, for example, has whimsically suggested that dark matter is really an elementary particle of spirit or consciousness, which he names Dust (32). What we know about dark matter thus far is that it interacts with visible matter in an important way, but that there is no way to see it directly. The exact same thing could be said about spirit or consciousness.
This is not to suggest, of course, that dark matter must be spirit. What is clear, though, is that dark matter has left astrophysics in something of a conundrum. No one knows exactly what it is, but everyone agrees that it exists, and that it is very important. Until and unless science produces more specific and empirical findings regarding the actual nature of dark matter, the very concept can perhaps open up new vistas for the imagination.
One way or the other, the part of the universe that science has been able to physically detect constitutes only 5 percent of the entire universe as a whole. This suggests at the very least that the universe is extremely mysterious, and science is very far from having explained all of its secrets.
Biello, David. “What Are Dark Matter and Dark Energy, and How Are They Affecting the Universe?” Scientific American. 28 Aug. 2006. Web. 18 Aug. 2017.
National Geographic. “Dark Matter and Dark Energy.” National Geographic. n.d. Web. 18 Aug. 2017. .
Pullman, Philip. The Amber Spyglass. New York: Random House, 2000. Print.