Physics: How to unravel the darkness?

by in Science & Health.

George Frey/Getty Images

George Frey/Getty Images

In a brief discussion on how to comprehend the vast expanse of the universe, the Blouin Creative Leadership Summit 2014 called on three physicists to shed light on darkness. The existence of dark matter and dark energy has long been a thorn in the sides of physicists who aim to better understand the make-up of the universe and the concept of a multiverse.

Lisa Randall, a Frank G. Baird Jr. Professor of Science at Harvard University and a particle physicist, emphasized that it’s not that we don’t understand dark energy, but rather that we don’t understand the amount of dark energy there is. (Dark matter does not interact with light in ways that other matter typically does.) “We should really say it’s transparent,” she said.

The real mystery, she noted, is why dark energy and dark matter exist in the amount they do. Randall believes we can make real progress on finding the answers.

Zolt├ín Haiman, Professor in the Department of Astronomy at Columbia University, explained that — even though there are a lot of things we don’t know about the universe — “we can observe the universe [and] how it’s arranged in its present state. Even though we don’t know what dark matter and dark energy are made of, we have predictive theories about how they are formed.”

The fact that we know that the universe began 13.7 billion years ago, and that we can follow the process of its growth from the beginning, is remarkable, to say the least.

Janna Levin, Associate Professor of Astrophysics at Columbia University, described the potential of the current time to figure out what lies beyond, and how fast the universe is expanding. “100 years ago we weren’t sure there were other galaxies out there,” she said. Now we are having to consider things that are outside “the story”, such as: What is the dark energy? Why is it the size it is?

She emphasized that we might have to come to terms with the potential existence of extra-spatial dimensions.

In all, the questions around dark energy, dark matter, multiple universes, and the notion of alternate dimensions still elude luminaries in the field, but much confidence remains that we will eventually find the answers to “how much” and “why”.