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Jewish World Review Feb. 14, 2002 / 3 Adar 5762

Bill Tammeus

Bill Tammeus
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In space, the dark matters

http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com -- LIKE me, you no doubt spend a fair amount of your spare (ha!) time wondering where all the "dark matter" is in the universe.

Dark matter here does not refer to Enron accounting reports, projected federal budget deficits or Osama bin Laden's shriveled soul.

Rather, it is some kind of invisible matter created when the universe came into being.

Whatever it is, scientists are convinced that dark matter makes up a huge portion of the mass of the cosmos, even if no one has actually seen any of it.

Some scientists recently proposed the theory, yet to be tested, that most dark matter is in the form of sterile neutrinos. I'd say more about that, but when it's this close to Valentine's Day, I prefer to avoid all embarrassing talk of sterility.

But I cannot shirk my journalistic duty to keep you abreast of dark matter news. And there really has been some recently.

Astronomers from Rutgers University and the University of Edinburgh led an international team that found dark matter is distributed in almost exactly the same pattern as the galaxies we can see.

One reason I feel so confident in this conclusion is that one of the co-authors of a paper about all this is named Alan Heavens. He's the Edinburgh researcher. Beyond that, the name of the Rutgers co-author is Licia Verde. "Verde," as you know, means "green."

And we recently learned from other scientists that the entire universe is sort of a turquoise green.

So my theory is that if you've got people named Heavens and, in effect, Green telling you how the dark matter in the cosmos is distributed, you've got as close to a sure thing as you're likely to get in science these days.

Heavens, Verde and their colleagues used a large telescope in Australia to look at a chunk of the sky and, from those observations, to draw their dark-matter conclusions.

But, you ask, how can they find the dark matter if it's invisible and if telescopes can see only light or lighted matter?

You ask hard questions. If I weren't worried about bruising your ego, I'd tell you to go sit down and be quiet and to pay no attention to the little man behind the curtain. But you probably deserve an answer.

So I have scanned the universe looking for an explanation of how it's possible use a telescope to locate dark matter you can't see. And here is the best I've been able to do: "New analysis techniques have allowed astronomers to work out where the dark matter is."

I found this elucidation in a news release sent out by the Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council, which provides science research grants in Britain.

I don't know exactly what "new analysis techniques" means, but I'm pretty sure you can have deep faith in them if they are approved by an astronomer named Heavens.

Besides, what are you going to do with the information if I really tell you exactly how it's possible to find invisible dark matter by looking through a telescope that can't see it? Probably just show off at parties, and surely we have enough of that going on.

As astronomers have been searching the skies looking for things that don't appear to be there, they also have turned up huge things that really are there - galaxies.

So far in this study - which goes by the unengaging name of the 2dF (two-degree field) Galaxy Redshift Survey - they have compiled a list of 210,000 galaxies.

I have no idea what they're all called, but I can guess. Ours is the Milky Way. Others must be Snickers, Baby Ruth, Hershey ...


JWR contributor Bill Tammeus' latest book is "A Gift of Meaning." To order it, please click on title. To comment on his column, please click here.


02/07/02: Train doctors to have caring hands and hearts
01/31/02: A different feel to my life and to my country?
01/24/02: How green is my universe?
01/17/02: The end is near, eventually
01/08/02: Important lessons arrive out of the past
12/19/01: Lost in the cloning debate
12/10/01: It's all in the name: Unraveling the mystery of Osama's whereabouts
11/19/01: Flying with damaged trust
11/02/01: Recent, recognized research is a hard nut to crack
10/31/01: Many paradoxes in life
10/25/01: Newly found planets show the cosmos is still strange
10/19/01: Just getting caught up
10/17/01: It was a time for tea and sympathy
10/08/01: What makes an authentic patriot?
10/04/01: It's OK to twist and shout
09/17/01: One precious life among many
09/13/01: Remember who we are
09/11/01: Sometimes all children need is shelter from the storm
09/05/01: Couldn't run or throw, but a hero just the same
08/28/01: Lesson for the scientific faithful: Some theories come with strings attached
08/27/01: When waste in space is a waste of space
08/21/01: In complex world, we lack tools to carve out understanding
08/09/01: Visited while asleep by gang of magical mischief makers
08/03/01: Recognizing the limits of one's capacity
07/27/01: We are more than the sum of our work days
07/12/01: Some stars, like some people, never shine
07/11/01: Our deeply embedded need for order
07/03/01: Not-so-famous tour explores not-so-rich neighborhoods
06/28/01: Driven to tell the truth about golf and government
06/25/01: When poetry becomes destructive
06/21/01: We interrupt this broadcast to bring you a word from deep space
06/14/01: Theory of revolution explains why some things get lost
06/11/01: Shamanic gewgaws
06/06/01: Charity begins at homes with lemonade stands
05/30/01: When are wars worth dying in?
05/23/01: Cruising along that bumpy highway
05/09/01: If you're in the write mood, wish the U.S. happy birthday
05/07/01: Killing McVeigh will wound us all
05/01/01: Dubya reinforcing negative GOP stereotypes?

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Reprinted by permission, The Kansas City Star, Copyright 2002. All rights reserved