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July 17, 2015
Mystery of the Hidden Cosmos: Something Big is Missing from Our Everything
by Jeff Lindsay

The behavior of galaxy clusters like this one provides information pointing to the existence of vast amounts of dark matter in our universe. (Photo from NASA)

Could we be "living alongside a dark parallel reality" in which the galaxies we see overlap with cast amounts of invisible matter capable of having complex structure? This is the question raised in the cover story of the July 2015 issue of Scientific American, "Mystery of the Hidden Cosmos," by Bogdau A. Dobrescu and Don Lincoln (vol. 313, no. 1, pp. 32-39).

The authors are researchers at the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory in Batavia, Illinois.

Dark matter is one of the most intriguing tentative discoveries of physics in the past century. Based on observations of galaxies, it has become clear that their behavior is not consistent with the amount of ordinary visible matter that they have.

For example, to account for the existence of galaxy clusters, some unseen source of gravity must be holding the clustered galaxies together. To explain the observed spinning of galaxies, there must be some unseen source of gravity tugging at them. And to explain the way galaxy clusters bend light from distant galaxies behind them, they must have much more mass than we can visually detect.

The source of these large forces is believed to be some class of matter such as a particle or particles that do not interact with ordinary matter through electromagnetism (otherwise it would be visible) nor through the strong force that holds atomic nuclei together (otherwise they could bind to nuclei and be readily detectable).

Dark matter is apparently far more prevalent than regular matter, and both dark matter and regular matter are dwarfed by the mass contributed by the strange phenomenon of "dark energy" that is pushing galaxies apart from each other, overcoming the attraction of gravity.

It turns out that only about 4% of the cosmos is actually made of the matter that we used to think made up everything. The significance of dark matter and dark energy are simply astonishing, and should be humbling to all those who think that we can understand the cosmos based on what we see with our eyes.

Sorry folks, but what you can see and touch, the ordinary matter of the universe, accounts for only 4% of reality. For those who thought there was no need to invoke anything beyond our visible universe to understand the cosmos, it turns out there's a lot more to reality than the everything you were so comfortable with.

Although the amount of dark matter is surprisingly large, even bigger surprises might arise in the way this puzzling material is distributed across the cosmos. Trying to make sense of the measurements of its distribution has driven several refinements in the scientific theories describing dark matter.

The most basic theory proposes that a single type of heavy particle accounts for the distribution of the dark matter. This particle, the Weakly Interacting Massive Particle (WIMP), would be a relatively slow-moving ("cold") type of dark matter.

The distribution of dark matter can be inferred by observing how galaxies bend light (gravitational lensing), by the behavior of galaxy clusters, by the behavior of colliding galaxies, or by the rapid rotation of some galaxies like Andromeda.

Some details in the observed behavior of our own galaxy do not fit predictions based on dark matter composed solely of WIMPs, but these problems may be resolved if dark matter is assumed to be complex, having more than just one kind of particle.

Improved results may be obtained if, in addition to WIMPS, there are also dark particles that can interact with one another more strongly via means such as some kind of "dark charge" or the exchange of something like "dark photons."

This situation opens the possibility that multiple types of dark matter could interact to form analogs to atoms, molecules, and more complex structures. Under such models, the Milky Way, for example, may have a spherical cloud of WIMPs and an additional galactic disk of dark matter roughly aligned with the visible galactic disk of stars and other ordinary matter.

The mass of ordinary matter may be about 15% of what is in our galaxy, with another 15% in the disk of strongly interacting dark matter and the remaining 70% in a roughly spherical cloud of WIMPs.

Could this invisible, "fine" dark matter be related to spirit matter and the spirit world? We don't know if dark matter can provide the complex systems we think are part of the "spirit world," but that's a tantalizing idea.

Dobrescu and Lincoln conclude their article with a light-hearted touch:

The real message is that we have a mystery before us and that we do not know what the answer will be. Until we find it, we must be open to myriad explanations, including the fascinating possibility that we might be living alongside a dark parallel reality. Could it be that a dark matter scientist has turned its attention to its skies and is wondering about us?

Raising the possibility of some kind of intelligence in the world of dark matter need not be entirely ludicrous.

In Doctrine and Covenants 131, Joseph Smith said:

7 There is no such thing as immaterial matter. All spirit is matter, but it is more fine or pure, and can only be discerned by purer eyes;

8 We cannot see it; but when our bodies are purified we shall see that it is all matter.

When I pondered that statement years ago as a young student in college, it struck me as a very science-compatible concept. Now with the recognition of dark matter as a dominant unseen component of our universe, it seems all the more relevant and science-compatible.

Immaterial matter might be great for the philosophers, but it makes no sense to me. I treasure Joseph's inspired statement on the materiality of spirit.

If dark matter is somehow related to spirit matter, then it will be especially exciting to see how scientific knowledge and experimental methods advance in this field. Will we uncover evidence of the spirit world? Or just further evidence that the universe is far more complicated than we ever imagined? Stay tuned, and keep imagining!

For more from Jeff Lindsay, see Mormanity at http://mormanity.blogspot.com and his Mormon Answers section at http://jefflindsay.com/LDSFAQ/.

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About Jeff Lindsay

Jeff Lindsay has been defending the Church on the Internet since 1994, when he launched his LDSFAQ website under JeffLindsay.com. He has also long been blogging about LDS matters on the blog Mormanity (mormanity.blogspot.com). Jeff is a longtime resident of Appleton, Wisconsin, who recently moved to Shanghai, China, with his wife, Kendra. He works for an Asian corporation as head of intellectual property. Jeff and Kendra are the parents of 4 boys, 3 married and the the youngest on a mission.

He is a former innovation and IP consultant, a former professor, and former Corporate Patent Strategist and Senior Research Fellow for a multinational corporation.

Jeff Lindsay, Cheryl Perkins and Mukund Karanjikar are authors of the book Conquering Innovation Fatigue (John Wiley & Sons, 2009).

Jeff has a Ph.D. in Chemical Engineering from Brigham Young University and is a registered US patent agent. He has more than 100 granted US patents and is author of numerous publications. Jeff's hobbies include photography, amateur magic, writing, and Mandarin Chinese.

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