Monday, May 23, 2011

Once more in the depths of space...


In a move that is sure to earn the consternation of “fringe” science buffs everywhere, the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical society journal has announced it will publish two papers that “confirm the existence of dark energy.”

Dark energy is thought to comprise 74% of the universe.  It is also thought to explain why the cosmos is not only expanding but doing so at an accelerated rate.  These are strong claims and therefore the existence of dark energy was thought to be purely theoretical.  Not so, say these two studies. One study was performed by measuring patterns in how galaxies are formed in space, the other by measuring the rate at which these galactic clusters formed.  The results of these measurements seem to support the reality of an unseen, “dark energy.”
Think that sounds screwy?  Well get this.  The visible universe, meaning things like stars, planets, nebula, people, marshmallow fluff, et. al. only account for 4% of the total universe.  4%?!  As previously stated, dark energy is estimated to account for 74% of “all that is” so what is the other 22%?  That is said to be “dark matter,” matter that neither reflects nor emits detectable light.  In other words, it’s there…we just can’t see it.  For a few of us whose formal schooling in science took place…uhhh, a coupla years back, this is a revolutionary find and will require an entirely new way of viewing cosmology.  That will no doubt be doubly true for the crowd carrying the “there never was a Big Bang” banner, but something tells me they’re not fans of The Royal Academy anyway.

In other astronomical news, MSNBC had a bit today about new photos from the Hubble.  One shows the galaxy NGC 5775 and the fuzzy halo around its edges, thought to be expulsions of gas from exploded stars.  Another unique aspect of this galaxy is the band of hydrogen gas that connects it to its neighbor, galaxy NGC 5774.  Astronomers believe that these two galaxies may be in the early stages of merging.  The article spends a quarter of its length making forced tie-ins to the upcoming pirate movie, but there are spectacular photographs from the Hubble featured. 


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