Saturday, May 16, 2009

More philosophical meanderings

My mom writes in a comment:

I think I would like to know what the consequences are of discovering or measuring dark matter. Also, does what you are doing have any relation whatsoever to things like the Hubble telescope or general space travel that people seem to be doing more and more of? Might your discoveries, for instance, give us an idea of the future of the universe as we know it?
xox MOM

These are good questions. What would be the consequences of discovering dark matter? When people ask me this question, one of the first things that I have to emphasize is that there are no foreseeable applications to my research. Nothing obviously useful will come out of it, unlike, for example, research in quantum computing or more applied fields. Now, there's always the chance that something we develop in trying to detect dark matter could be useful to society (for example, there are a number of ideas to use technologies developed in this field for detecting nuclear weapons at border crossings), but I believe that justifying this research by appealing to possible applications is dishonest.

The only reason I have for searching for dark matter is to increase our ("Mankind's" with a capital M) understanding of the universe. 23% of the universe is dark matter, and 85% of all the matter is dark. There are two aspects to this. The first is humanity's standard musings over "why are we here? how did we get here?" Dark matter is a key component to the evolution of the universe, influencing the expansion rate of the universe and the way matter first clustered to form stars and then planets. If it didn't exist in the way that it does, the Earth would probably not exist and neither would this blog. I'm touching up on religion again, here, which interestingly enough seems to happen quite a lot in this blog.

The second aspect that interests me is that I just think it's cool to know more about the way the universe works. Why is there more matter than antimatter in the universe (another great physics question, as naively we might expect identical amounts in which case we would have all disappeared in a puff of energy a long long time ago)? What was the big bang? Does dark matter really take the form we think it does (I sort of like the fact that we can predict the existence of a particle and then go out and find it, which has happened many times in the past)?

To answer my mom's other questions, this is very closely related to the Hubble telescope in the sense that a lot of the evidence for dark matter comes from telescopes like Hubble, and that telescopes have a chance to detect dark matter in a completely different way from us. Not so much space travel, which in my mind isn't so interesting.

The picture is a simulation of structure formation in the universe. All the filaments and bright sports are made of dark matter (Courtesy and interestingly enough titled "hugh.gif")

1 comment:

  1. Wao that picture is amazing I can believe that it have some relation with the world's evolution because if you see that as a piece of the world it is so small.