Thursday, May 26, 2022

Dark Energy: Our Expanding Universe's Biggest Mystery

When we think of the term “dark energy,” most of us are likely to conjure up images of Voldemort, Darth Vader, or that unpleasant person at the..


When we think of the term “dark energy,” most of us are likely to conjure up images of Voldemort, Darth Vader, or that unpleasant person at the office — not many will consider the stars and the universe.  

Humans have been examining the stars since the beginning of time. We’ve used the night sky to guide us, explain the inexplicable, and seek insight into the human condition and experience. These head-tilting questions may have once been answered only by faith or religious doctrine, though it may be safe to assume that at least some folks wondered at the essence of space, the stars, and the galaxies.  

As the famous nursery rhyme goes: “Twinkle, twinkle, little star. How I wonder what you are.” 

Today, science is responding to the questions about the stars and the universe. Scientists have discovered that dark energy is a repulsive force causing the universe to expand at an ever-increasing pace. 

This quintessence has long puzzled astronomers and cosmologists, denying the natural pull of gravity and expected eventual deceleration. We’re still very much in the dark about dark energy, but the following is a brief guide to what we know thus far.  

What Is Dark Energy? 

When the universe exploded into existence, as it is hypothesized to have occurred during the Big Bang, the initial velocity should have set a regular rate of speed into motion.  

Newton’s second law dictates that the acceleration of a body is equal to the force acting upon it, divided by its mass. Thus, as time advances, the once early universe would grow to have a much larger mass. Theoretically, this would result in a constant slowing down due to the mass growing more extensive but the initial force staying the same. 

Instead, we see accelerated speed and expansion in the measurement of the universe.  

Existing definitive observations result from measuring the distance between spatial objects through acoustic oscillations, allowing amplified quantum fluctuations to be observed when measuring the restructuring of galaxy clusters 

Tracking these clusters of galaxies could allow scientists to map expansion across the history of the universe, a technique similar to using Type Ia   supernova, an explosion occurring several light-years away, as light beacons to measure vast distances in space.  

The velocity pushing the universe outward seems to be increasing. As a result, scientists are seeing longer distances being covered in shorter amounts of time.  

So what is this unknown source of the universe’s accelerating expansion? A mysterious force deemed dark energy 

This concept can be challenging to imagine, especially because dark energy isn’t dark — it’s invisible. 

Think of skipping a stone across water. As the stone skips, it travels away from you, eventually slowing down and falling into the water.  

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The universe is performing a somewhat similar action, though to a much more complex degree.  

Allow the stone to represent matter. As the matter moves further away, its velocity would be expected to decrease.  

But the matter continues to travel outward, never falling into the already existing space or collapsing into itself. 

So, in this case, the stone is matter, the water is space, and the self-perpetuating force behind the continuous skipping is dark energy 

An explanation of the universe’s accelerated expansion driven by dark energy can also be broken down into concepts as simple as baked goods.  

Imagine blueberry muffin batter that has been put into the oven. The blueberries are the matter, and the batter is space.  

The batter thickens, rises, and expands as it heats up, pushing the blueberries further apart.  

The same thing is happening in our universe. As our universe expands, matter (planets, moons, galaxies, and stars) moves farther apart.  

Why Is Dark Energy Important?  

Dark Energy Importance | Galaxy Image Swirling

There are many types of energy — mechanical energy, nuclear energy, and potential energy, to name just a few. While we know much about those types of energy, much is still unknown about dark energy. We must understand dark energy and its workings because, for the most part, it is what our universe is made of and will determine its fate. 

It is estimated that dark energy makes up about 68% of the universe. 

Dark matter accounts for another 27%, and visible matter makes up under 5% of the universe.  

This ordinary, visible matter is called baryonic matter and consists of protons, neutrons, and electrons. 

What Is Dark Matter and How Is It Different From Dark Energy? 

In essence, dark energy speeds up the universe’s expansion, while dark matter slows it down.  

Unlike ordinary matter, dark matter is not likely to have baryonic particles, as radiation would detect baryons or ordinary matter.  

And it’s not antimatter, either. Antiparticles are the opposite of baryonic particles, and we do not see the gamma rays that result from antimatter annihilation when attempting to detect the properties of dark matter 

The leading theory on dark matter currently estimates that an unknown or hypothetical particle is most likely, such as axions. Therefore, these are the most likely dark matter candidates. 

Axions are hypothetical dark matter particles that contain weak particles and low mass. These are also known as weakly interacting massive particles (WIMPS) 

In reality, it’s unknown what dark matter is made of, but we know it is there due to its ability to change the current gravitational states of galaxies.  

Not only are galaxies moving further away from their initially observed positions, but space objects like stars and planets most distant from the center of a galaxy move at the same speed as those nearer to the middle. 

This means the unknown matter is acting on the baryonic matter from outside the realms of the galaxy instead of the core where matter is most concentrated. 

We are reasonably sure that the gravity-repelling forces of dark matter and energy are driving the universe’s expansion and continuously gaining strength as they accelerate.  

Still, dark matter and dark energy are not broadly understood, giving way to one of the most significant scientific mysteries in the universe.  

Who Discovered Dark Energy? 

Like many scientific theories and discoveries, dark energy was a discovery uncovered by the collaborative findings of different scientists over time.  

The revelation of dark energy dates back to the 1920s.  

American astronomer Edwin Hubble — for whom the Hubble Space Telescope is named — theorized that galaxies were traveling away from our home galaxy (the Milky Way). Furthermore, he posited they were moving at rates of speed proportional to the distance they were traveling. His conjecture was due to the evaluation of Newton’s second law, in which the acceleration of the universe is determined by the originating explosive force divided by its mass.  

These distant observations were realized when studying supernovae, forces that create black holes upon collapsing. 

This claim held that our universe was no longer the stable entity it was thought to be and instead was an unstable, moving entity.  

The theory that galactic instability was causing spatial movement emerged around the same time that the idea that the history of the universe, and the existence of dark matter itself, could be traced back to a single and specific event — the Big Bang. 

The Big Bang suggests that the universe’s origin resulted from a single, primordial atom that separated and caused a cataclysmic explosion. The explosion sent out all of the matter we see today, accumulating to a total mass of an estimated three multiplied by ten raised to the fifty-fifth power.  

This theory was proposed by Georges Lemaitre, a priest and cosmologist from Belgium. He would later be credited for this discovery and was considered the founder of the Big Bang Theory.  

But the name for the modern-day theory that would alter the path of cosmologists for decades to come was not at the hands of Lemaitre.  

Instead, it is the result of an English cosmologist named Fred Hoyle, who vehemently opposed the theory and gave it such a label to denounce its validity, but the name stuck nonetheless.  

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Einstein’s Cosmological Constant 

When Einstein proposed his Theory of Relativity, several equations were derived in which explanation and theory agreed in denoted variables with set procedures. However, one observable issue occurred when Einstein’s equations couldn’t accurately depict reality. 

Albert Einstein’s cosmological constant was a temporary solution to a bigger picture.  

During Einstein’s era, the universe was theorized to be static rather than accelerating.  

This theory caused Einstein’s theory of general relativity (which explained gravitational effects on space-time fabric) equations to lack an equilibrium solution.  

To compensate, he casually inserted a value of roughly negative one to balance. But, of course, now that the universe is known to expand, this value can be plugged in and treated as a variable, representing the gravitational repellent of dark matter 

When solving for this variable, the value it holds is nearly identical to what Einstein predicted for a static universe 

What was once considered Einstein’s biggest blunder is now the leading mathematical induction for the force of dark energy, something he had no known knowledge of.  

Has Dark Energy Been Proven?
Evidence Behind Universal Expansion

Dark Energy and Universal Expansion

Several scientific findings support dark energy and universal expansion.  

In the late 1990s, two astronomy groups were researching a known white dwarf star (a shrunken star state that occurs right before supernova forms) that had exploded a significant amount of time ago, causing a supernova that was only recently visible to us.  

While conducting this research, they were hoping to determine the rate at which universal velocity was decreasing.  

To strengthen their claim, they used the phenomena of red-shifting.  

Red-shifting is the use of wavelengths to determine the change in distance over a specific interval of time.  

Large spatial bodies have the ability to emit and absorb light.  

Using the technique of red-shifting, as a spatial body is getting closer to the observation point, the redness becomes brighter due to a decrease in wavelength.  

As it moves further away, it becomes much fainter as the wavelength has increased vastly.  

These astronomers were using the redshift of this supernova to determine how fast it was closing into Earth, which would predict the decrease in velocity for the universe. 

They expected a bright redshift, but what they found instead was an extremely faint color.  

The significant color change indicated that the distance over time had grown since the last observation, meaning that the universe was expanding and positively accelerating.  

Gravitational lensing offers another point of evidence.  

Gravitational lensing is the bending of visible light through a cosmic giant, such as a galaxy.  

Galaxies have enormous amounts of gravity. In extraordinary cases, it can act as a crude lens, distorting the image of a body behind it or making it seem more significant than it is.  

Astronomers have used gravitational lenses to view the spatial bodies behind them to prove dark energy exists.  

They found that these images, which should be staying near a constant, were much smaller, meaning that some unknown force was causing them to accelerate faster than predicted, further providing evidence for dark energy. 

In the 1960s, astrophysicist Arno Penzias and astronomer Robert Wilson observed unique radio signals and microwave amplification at the Holmdel satellite antenna site in New Jersey.  

While attempting to create a radio telescope, they came across unexpected interference — a static humming sound 

After much consideration about what the noise could be, the pair concluded that the noise might be residual from the Big Bang explosion.  

Today, the interference that was once just a nuisance is now called cosmic microwave background or cosmic background radiation, a probable remnant of the explosion when the Big Bang created the universe. 

Think again of the skipping of a stone as the stone moves across the water; the ripple effect that the stone causes continues to permeate outward.  

This residual wave movement is similar to the microwave radiation or echoing effect of the Big Bang that was stumbled upon by Penzias and Wilson.  

The Future of Dark Energy  

Particle astrophysics is at the forefront of research in both astronomy and high-energy particle physics. 

There are two significant observatories where astrophysicists study dark matter and dark energy and their effect on the universe: The IceCube Neutrino Observatory boasts the most substantial neutrino detector on Earth. In addition, the VERITAS Gamma Ray Observatory is home to VERITAS, and is a complement to the NASA Fermi mission 

It seems as though the more we discover about this mysterious force, the more questions we have.  

Will the universe continue to expand forever? What will happen as it continues to accelerate?  

As the universe continues to grow and our current galaxies get pulled further apart from each other, it’s possible that future humans of planet Earth will not be aware of the existence of many stars and planets, as they will become too far away to be visible.  

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Scientists once thought that gravity would slow down and potentially reverse the universal expansion one day. If the universe contained enough matter, gravity was thought to possibly supersede the expansion and cause the universe to collapse into itself, a hypothetical phenomenon known as the Big Crunch. 

Dark Energy Remains Much a Mystery 

We know so little about cosmic acceleration and the nature of dark energy. All that can be said for sure is that the universe’s expansion has not been slowing due to gravity as many thought, and instead, there has been an accelerating expansion rate. 

While we are certain about the existence of dark energy, we don’t know much beyond that. For example, scientists can only theorize about what dark energy is made of. Still, those in the fields of astronomy, cosmology, and astrophysics are working hard to shed a little more light each day on the nature and existence of dark energy. 

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By: Just Energy
Title: Dark Energy: The Biggest Mystery in Our Expanding Universe
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Published Date: Mon, 06 Dec 2021 19:49:53 +0000

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