Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Advent thoughts on dark matter

Dark matter in the galaxy cluster CL 0152-1357 is mapped in purple. The yellowish galaxies are the visible cluster member galaxies forming a filamentary structure, possibly in the process of merging.
Credit: Jee et al. 2005, Astrophysical Journal

Hubble sheds light on dark matter

“Indeed, these are the mere edges of His ways, and how small a whisper we hear of Him! But the thunder of His power who can understand?” Job 26:14

Science writer Robert Roy Britt notes that a new Hubble Space Telescope images project has mapped out invisible dark matter with unprecedented detail. It is quite fascinating, following several breakthroughs in recent years regarding the existence of dark matter and energy.

Astronomers don't know what it is, but every now and then they find more evidence of dark matter and pin down where the mysterious stuff resides.

A new project that recycled Hubble Space Telescope images has mapped the invisible dark matter with unprecedented detail. Researchers focused on two galaxy clusters that are so far away, and their light has taken so long to get here, that they are seen as they existed when the universe was about half its present age.

The observations provide additional evidence supporting a leading theory that galaxies form in cosmic webs, with regular material and dark matter condensing into nodes something like water drops gather at intersections of spider silk.

You can also think of it as froth gathering on the tops of ocean waves, said study team member Myungkook James Jee at Johns Hopkins University.

Jee notes that "It is very challenging to verify the simulation results observationally, because dark matter does not emit light.”

The trick is to look for subtle distortions in the images caused by gravitational lensing, in which the shapes of very distant galaxies are warped by dense concentrations of matter between us and the galaxies. The matter, which is not visible, bends the light with its gravity, and that reveals its presence.

"The images we took show clearly that the cluster galaxies are located at the densest regions of the dark matter haloes, which are rendered in purple in our images," Jee said.

In other words, look at the above image, at the purple haze.

That haze is not dark matter, but merely evidences the distortion caused by dark matter, viewed across time and space. Thrilled yet? You should be!


Those who live life based on only what they can see, touch, taste and handle…are sadly misguided. And this just a lesson of physical science! Not to mention the lessons of Word and Spirit…

There is more on this dark matter lensing in the December issue of Astrophysical Journal. And, this follows up research done in 2003…the results which confound physicists.

Wilkinson microwave anisotropy probe

An article in the U.S. News and World Report indicates that physicists are baffled by recent breakthroughs in astronomy and physics, astrophysics. The tracking of the Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe reveals that our universe is composed of only 4 percent ordinary matter, in stars, planets, gas and dust. 96 percent of our universe is composed of invisible energy and matter: 23 percent exotic “dark matter” – called “dark” because it cannot be seen, only detected by its gravity – and 73% inexplicable “dark energy,” an anti-gravitational force that also cannot be seen. Physicist John Bahcall of the Princeton Institute of Advanced Study comments:

It really is strange and -- to our perhaps uneducated eyes -- arbitrary, ugly, or accidental. To live in a universe where only 4 percent of matter is ordinary matter I find awkward at best, implausible at the least, but there it is…

If I didn’t have all these facts in front of me, and you came up with a universe like that, I’d either ask you what you’ve been smoking or tell you to stop telling fairy tales. [1]

Only 4% ordinary, “real” matter! The rest is “dark matter” and “dark energy” that we can’t see or understand.

But Scripture gives us a cryptic clue: “Through Him all things were created. In Him all things consist, and by Him all things hold together!”

Those things that keep us from praising God – lack of understanding material existence, place in time, relational issues, physical or emotional pain, grief and circumstance that seem so “real,” so limiting – these things only make up 4 percent of the universe!

Praising God, living based on His character and word, opens us to the 96 percent we cannot see with our eyes, and links us with the resources of the God…the holy One who created the whole universe, yet dwells among His creation!

Let your mind dwell on that for a few minutes, this Advent…as you consider the implications of Incarnation and eternity!

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