Dark Matter or Dark Ages

The solution awaits young genius.

Think of gravity, the Einsteinian kind, the bowling ball on an elastic tarpaulin. The ball stretches the tarp to a deep, cone-shaped depression and marbles spiral down the slope toward the bottom. In this model the tarpaulin is the space-time continuum, the bowling ball any massive object, our sun for instance, and the marbles are the planets. Assume all the objects are free to move along the surface of the tarp, as the sun and planets move within the space-time continuum. Now, imagine the bowling ball transformed to a helium balloon. The balloon would rise, pulling the tarp upward, stretching it to a peak. The marbles would roll away from the center, the balloon, the source of the negative gravity.

Negative gravity? The concept sounds ludicrous, more an item from science fiction than reality. Gravity is the stuff that pulls things together, isn’t it? That’s what Newton said in 1687. He even came up with his famous Three Laws of Motion to describe its affects and a radical new math to go with them, calculus. Einstein saw it differently in 1915, gravity was a distortion of the space-time continuum, the bowling ball on the tarp of existence. Both giants of science agreed the universe was stable, no larger than our galaxy, with well-defined and predictable, clock-like motions.

Then between 1923 and 1929 Edwin Hubble turned the universe on its end. First he proved that our Milky Way Galaxy was not alone, but one of millions. Then he proved that all of the millions of galaxies were moving away from one another. The universe was expanding, and that meant a beginning. Careers were made, and broken, back-calculating the expansion to find the age of the universe, to the point where all matter started, the Big Bang. After Hubble’s discoveries, the question became: Will the universe expand forever, or will gravity eventually overcome momentum and pull it all back together? The Big Chill or the Big Crunch? Only an accurate value for the mass of the universe was needed. Then, two years before the turn of the millennium, the beautiful clockwork motions, driven by the constant and reliable force of gravity, exploded to random gears and springs.

In 1998, Saul Perlmutter and his colleagues discovered the universe wasn’t simply expanding, it was accelerating in its expansion. Conventional cosmology, and therefore all of theoretical physics, was thrown into chaos. Using what was known about the mass of the universe, and the dogma of Einstein’s Theory of Relativity, the universe couldn’t be accelerating as the new data showed it was. Either a new theory of gravity needed to be found, or new mass needed to be invented.

History has shown that when confronted with the choice between dogma and science, the establishment has always preferred to defend old theory in the face of new information. This isn’t done maliciously, with some vindictive urge to destroy new ideas; established scientists simply become trapped by their knowledge, unable to see beyond what they know to be true. “It may be that young scientists did better, in part, because they never learned the older ways of thinking and could think in new ways,” Bruce Weinberg said in his 2011 paper studying the ages of Nobel Laureates. Though he shows the age of award winners has increased during the twentieth century due to the amount of training needed to get started, and experimental accomplishments now take many years, seminal theoretical breakthroughs seem always to come from the young.

In a stopgap response to the 1998 discovery of an accelerating universe, theoretical physics, steeped in the ideas of Relativity and Quantum Mechanics, created Dark Matter and Dark Energy. Neither has ever been detected or measured. After almost two decades, the ideas exist only to explain the deviation of the facts from the accepted rules of gravity, tools to explain uncomfortable inconsistencies in the Einsteinian universe. They utilize existing theory; Relativity, Quantum Mechanics, String Theory, and Multiple Universes; to explain a fundamental flaw in the existing theory of gravity. Over the years, the evolving theories of Dark Energy and Dark Matter, and their use to explain the accelerating expansion of the universe, have become ever more complex, ever more elaborate, always within the accepted paradigm of established physics. And yet there are still overwhelming contradictions within the Dark Energy and Dark Matter hypotheses; and now a few young iconoclasts doubt their veracity.

Gravity is as obvious as the ground beneath our feet, yet no one knows what it really is. Science can tell us what it does, but not what it is. We are taught in school that gravity is an attribute of mass, but that is not the complete truth. In fact, gravity is an attribute of energy. Everything generates a gravitational field, whether or not it has mass. This field is the result of various kinds of energy existing together. Gravity is summarized with math, a 4x4 matrix, called the Stress-Energy Tensor. Mass isn’t even considered. One input to the matrix is energy density. Mass is first converted to energy using E=mc2 and then the energy value is entered. So massless energetic things like photons create gravity fields.

Pressure is another input to the Matrix, which is important to Dark Energy theory. Today’s brightest theoretical physicist believe “empty” space, between galaxies and galactic clusters, is far from empty. Quantum Mechanics states that virtual particles, matter and antimatter, appear and instantly annihilate each other, creating energy, which in turn creates pressure in the vacuum, which results in gravity. But unlike the gravity we associate with mass, the gravity resulting from energy can be positive or negative, attractive or repulsive. The pressure between the galaxies is thought to be negative, so the gravity is also negative, pushing them apart. But as Occam’s razor instructs, the hypothesis with the fewest assumptions is usually best.

The response of modern physics to the 1998 discovery was hardly a break from tradition. Conventional members of the establishment have always defended old dogma. It takes a new mind to invent totally new ways of thinking. Plato, Eudoxus, Aristotle, Ptolemy and Copernicus all used “celestial spheres” to explain the movement of the planets in the nighttime sky. As more observations were made, aberrations to accepted theory popped up inconveniently, requiring ever more complex systems of planetary shells to validate the basic belief that the earth was the center of the universe. Eventually, Galileo discarded the geocentric view of the universe and a simpler, sun-centric solar system resolved the mounting inconsistencies. Unfortunately, the established theory proved too engrained, the establishment too powerful, and Galileo was forced to recant his theory to save his own life.

Only a newcomer, usually a very young genius, has so little to lose that breaking from the accepted can be acceptable. Newton was only 23 when he derived the first iteration of gravity theory and Einstein was still 26 when he took the science to the next level. They changed human understanding of the universe when they were still young and unknown. Their theories were doubted and misunderstood by the establishment for years.

Though modern blasphemers of Einsteinian gravity may be safe from the inquisitor’s fire, their professional lives are still at stake. Sometime in the near future, an unknown young genius will combine the existing theories and the increasing volumes of experimental observation in a new and iconoclastic theory. It will be rejected by the establishment at first and the young genius will be criticized by the wiser elders of physics. But in the end the new theory will be accepted as seminal and science will be better for it. It is impossible for us to imagine the consequences of the coming scientific breakthrough, just as it was inconceivable for someone living in 1905 to imagine nuclear energy. One thing is certain, it will change everything.

Here are some excerpts from an article published in The Daily Galaxy, at www.thedailygalaxy.com.

Recently, Hongsheng Zhao of the SUPA Centre of Gravity at the University of St. Andrews presented a radical new theory at the RAS National Astronomy Meeting in St Andrews. The theory suggested that the Milky Way and Andromeda galaxies collided some 10 billion years ago and that our understanding of gravity is fundamentally wrong. Remarkably, this would neatly explain the observed structure of the two galaxies and their satellites. In 2009, Zhao led an international team of astronomers that found an unexpected link between ‘dark matter’ and the visible stars and gas in galaxies that could revolutionize our current understanding of gravity. Zhao suggested that an unknown force is acting on dark matter. The team believes that the interactions between dark and ordinary matter could be more important and more complex than previously thought, and even speculate that dark matter might not exist and that the anomalous motions of stars in galaxies are due to a modification of gravity on extragalactic scales.

Dr. Benoit Famaey, of the Universities of Bonn and Strasbourg stated, “If we account for our observations with a modified law of gravity, it makes perfect sense to replace the effective action of hypothetical dark matter with a force closely related to the distribution of visible matter.”

In January 2010, Dr. Erik Verlinde professor of Theoretical Physics and world-renowned string theorist, caused a worldwide stir with the publication of On the Origin of Gravity and the Laws of Newton, in which he challenged commonly held perceptions on gravity, going so far as to state ‘for me gravity doesn’t exist.’ His highly controversial model of gravity as an entropic force, not a fundamental interaction, has garnered its share of physics establishment detractors. He says, Newtonian physics works for big things like apples and planets, but not for small things like atoms. “Molecules themselves don’t have any pressure, but a barrel of gas has.”

“We think we understand gravity in most situations,” he says “but when we look at galaxies and, on much larger scales, at galaxy clusters, we see things happening that we don’t understand using our familiar equations, like Newton’s equation of gravity or even Einstein’s gravity. So we have to assume there’s this mysterious form of matter, which we call dark matter, which we cannot see. Now dark energy is even weirder, in the sense that we don’t even know what it consists of. It’s something we can put in our equations to make things work, but there’s really a big puzzle to be solved in terms of why it’s there and what it’s made of. At present, we have not really found the right equations to describe it. There’s clearly progress to be made in terms of finding a better theory of gravity, and understanding what’s happening in our universe.”

Quantum mechanics took approximately 26 years to develop, Verlinde concludes. “We’ve had string theory for 40 years and nothing yet has come out of that which can be directly tested with observations or experiments. I think my idea has a greater chance of being tested with observations, which is an exciting thing. I think it will take no more than 10 or 15 years.”

The Daily Galaxy via University of St. Andrews, University of Amsterdam and Erik Verlinde. Journal Reference: Gianfranco Gentile, Benoit Famaey, Hongsheng Zhao, Paolo Salucci. Universality of galactic surface densities within one dark halo scale-length. Nature, 2009; 461 (7264): 627 DOI: 10.1038/nature08437