Most of Our Universe is Missing

Saturday, September 19, 2009

A BBC Horizon Documentary on the mysterious subject that is baffling scientists - dark matter.

One of the most important unsolved problems of current physics, astronomy, and cosmology is the nature of dark matter and dark energy. These two invisible components of the universe seem to control the behavior of galaxies, clusters of galaxies, and the accelerating expansion of the universe, but we do not know what they are.

In physical cosmology, astronomy and celestial mechanics, dark energy is a hypothetical form of energy that permeates all of space and tends to increase the rate of expansion of the universe. Dark energy is the most popular way to explain recent observations that the universe appears to be expanding at an accelerating rate. In the standard model of cosmology, dark energy currently accounts for 74% of the total mass-energy of the universe.

Two proposed forms for dark energy are the cosmological constant, a constant energy density filling space homogeneously, and scalar fields such as quintessence or moduli, dynamic quantities whose energy density can vary in time and space. Contributions from scalar fields that are constant in space are usually also included in the cosmological constant. The cosmological constant is physically equivalent to vacuum energy. Scalar fields which do change in space can be difficult to distinguish from a cosmological constant because the change may be extremely slow.

High-precision measurements of the expansion of the universe are required to understand how the expansion rate changes over time. In general relativity, the evolution of the expansion rate is parameterized by the cosmological equation of state. Measuring the equation of state of dark energy is one of the biggest efforts in observational cosmology today.

Adding the cosmological constant to cosmology's standard FLRW metric leads to the Lambda-CDM model, which has been referred to as the "standard model" of cosmology because of its precise agreement with observations. Dark energy has been used as a crucial ingredient in a recent attempt to formulate a cyclic model for the universe.

In 1998, published observations of Type Ia supernovae ("one-A") by the High-z Supernova Search Team followed in 1999 by the Supernova Cosmology Project suggested that the expansion of the universe is accelerating. Since then, these observations have been corroborated by several independent sources. Measurements of the cosmic microwave background, gravitational lensing, and the large scale structure of the cosmos as well as improved measurements of supernovae have been consistent with the Lambda-CDM model

The exact nature of this dark energy is a matter of speculation. It is known to be very homogeneous, not very dense and is not known to interact through any of the fundamental forces other than gravity. Since it is not very dense — roughly 10−29 grams per cubic centimeter — it is hard to imagine experiments to detect it in the laboratory. Dark energy can only have such a profound impact on the universe, making up 74% of all energy, because it uniformly fills otherwise empty space. The two leading models are quintessence and the cosmological constant. Both models include the common characteristic that dark energy must have negative pressure.

Watch Documentary - Dark Matter, Dark Energy

Links; Wikipedia - dark energy


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