F Rosa Rubicondior: How Science Works - And Why Religion Doesn't - Dark Matter - Building Testable Hypotheses

Friday 29 March 2024

How Science Works - And Why Religion Doesn't - Dark Matter - Building Testable Hypotheses

Dark Matter
‘Dark stars’: dark matter may form exploding stars – and observing the damage could help reveal what it’s made of

Dark matter is known to exists, and yet no-one knows what it is.

Creationists, in a desperate attempt to reduce science to the same status as their evidence-free superstition, will claim this shows that science is a religion really. But that childish claim soon disintegrates when we understand how scientists can know that dark matter exists when they don't know what it is.

Unlike religion's god(s), scientists can measure dark matter's effects on stuff they know more about, like the 'normal' matter that you and I are made of - atoms and molecules of which stars, galaxies and super-clusters are made of. They can see the gravitational effects of dark matter, so there must be something with enough mass to produce that gravitational effect.

Theists, on the other hand can never demonstrate any effects of the god(s) they believe in and are reduced to presuppositional claims and assertions, designating their god(s) as the cause of things they don't understand - the god of the gaps false dichotomy fallacy that passes for religious apologetics.

So, what are these effects that dark matter exerts?

The gravity produced by dark matter is what holds spinning galaxies together and prevents the detectable matter in them from flying outwards by the centrifugal force of rotation. It also produces gravitational 'lensing', which is the effect of light being bent by a large mass to act like a giant lens and make distant objects look closer.

So, we know dark matter is out there even though we don't know what it is, so scientists try to work out what it could be composed of and make predictions of what this stuff would do if it existed. This is the testable hypothesis. The trick is to construct experiments to test those hypotheses.

In the following article, Andreea Font, Reader in Theoretical Astrophysics, Liverpool John Moores University, Liverpool, UK, outlines some of the current hypotheses that seek to explain dark matter. Her article is reprinted from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license, reformatted for stylistic consistency.

‘Dark stars’: dark matter may form exploding stars – and observing the damage could help reveal what it’s made of
We wouldn’t be able to see them directly, but they could be out there.
Andreea Font, Liverpool John Moores University

Dark matter is a ghostly substance that astronomers have failed to detect for decades, yet which we know has an enormous influence on normal matter in the universe, such as stars and galaxies. Through the massive gravitational pull it exerts on galaxies, it spins them up, gives them an extra push along their orbits, or even rips them apart.

Like a cosmic carnival mirror, it also bends the light from distant objects to create distorted or multiple images, a process which is called gravitational lensing.

And recent research suggests it may create even more drama than this, by producing stars that explode.

For all the havoc it plays with galaxies, not much is known about whether dark matter can interact with itself, other than through gravity. If it experiences other forces, they must be very weak, otherwise they would have been measured.

A possible candidate for a dark matter particle, made up of a hypothetical class of weakly interacting massive particles (or WIMPs), has been studied intensely, so far with no observational evidence.

Recently, other types of particles, also weakly interacting but extremely light, have become the focus of attention. These particles, called axions, were first proposed in late 1970s to solve a quantum problem, but they may also fit the bill for dark matter.

Unlike WIMPs, which cannot “stick” together to form small objects, axions can do so. Because they are so light, a huge number of axions would have to account for all the dark matter, which means they would have to be crammed together. But because they are a type of subatomic particle known as a boson, they don’t mind.

In fact, calculations show axions could be packed so closely that they start behaving strangely – collectively acting like a wave – according to the rules of quantum mechanics, the theory which governs the microworld of atoms and particles. This state is called a Bose-Einstein condensate, and it may, unexpectedly, allow axions to form “stars” of their own.

This would happen when the wave moves on its own, forming what physicists call a “soliton”, which is a localised lump of energy that can move without being distorted or dispersed. This is often seen on Earth in vortexes and whirlpools, or the bubble rings that dolphins enjoy underwater.

The new study provides calculations which show that such solitons would end up growing in size, becoming a star, similar in size to, or larger than, a normal star. But finally, they become unstable and explode.

The energy released from one such explosion (dubbed a “bosenova”) would rival that of a supernova (an exploding normal star). Given that dark matter far outweighs the visible matter in the universe, this would surely leave a sign in our observations of the sky. We have yet to find such scars, but the new study gives us something to look for.

An observational test

The researchers behind the study say that the surrounding gas, made of normal matter, would absorb this extra energy from the explosion and emit some of it back. Since most of this gas is made of hydrogen, we know this light should be in radio frequencies.

Excitingly, future observations with the Square Kilometre Array radio telescope may be able to pick it up.
Artist's impression of the SKA telescope.
Artist’s impression of the SKA telescope.
wikipedia, CC BY-SA
So, while the fireworks from dark star explosions may be hidden from our view, we might be able to find their aftermath in the visible matter. What’s great about this is that such a discovery would help us work out what dark matter is actually made of – in this case, most likely axions.

What if observations will not detect the predicted signal? That probably won’t rule out this theory completely, as other “axion-like” particles are still possible. A failure of detection may indicate, however, that the masses of these particles are very different, or that they do not couple with radiation as strongly as we thought.

In fact, this has happened before. Originally, it was thought that axions would couple so strongly that they would be able to cool the gas inside stars. But since models of star cooling showed stars were just fine without this mechanism, the axion coupling strength had to be lower than originally assumed.

Of course, there is no guarantee that dark matter is made of axions. WIMPs are still contenders in this race, and there are others too.

Incidentally, some studies suggest that WIMP-like dark matter may also form “dark stars”. In this case, the stars would still be normal (made of hydrogen and helium), with dark matter just powering them.

These WIMP-powered dark stars are predicted to be supermassive and to live only for a short time in the early universe. But they could be observed by the James Webb space telescope. A recent study has claimed three such discoveries, although the jury is still out on whether that’s really the case.

Nevertheless, the excitement about axions is growing, and there are many plans to detect them. For example, axions are expected to convert into photons when they pass through a magnetic field, so observations of photons with a certain energy are targeting stars with magnetic fields, such as neutron stars, or even the Sun.

On the theoretical front, there are efforts to refine the predictions for what the universe would look like with different types of dark matter. For example, axions may be distinguished from WIMPs by the way they bend the light through gravitational lensing.

With better observations and theory, we are hoping that the mystery of dark matter will soon be unlocked. The Conversation
Andreea Font, Reader in Theoretical Astrophysics, Liverpool John Moores University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Published by The Conversation.
Open access. (CC BY 4.0)
Unlike religion, science is not about trying to shoehorn half-baked explanation for the unknown into preconceived answers and declaring it proof of the preconception; science is about honestly admitting what we don't know, then trying to build on what we do know to devise plausible hypotheses to explain it. The next step is to devise experiments to test the hypotheses or make predictions about reality would be like if the hypothesis were correct then measuring reality to see if it matches the prediction. If the experiment fails or reality is as predicted, the hypothesis is disregarded and science moves on, a little bit wiser than before having eliminated one of the plausible explanations.

To see how that compares to religion, ask a religious person what would happen if their god suddenly died or lost its power. How would we know in terms of something being different or failing to happen? You will never get an answer beyond deflection and assertion that either 'everything' would change or their god couldn't die or lose its powers. You will never get a testable hypothesis.

What Makes You So Special? From The Big Bang To You

How did you come to be here, now? This books takes you from the Big Bang to the evolution of modern humans and the history of human cultures, showing that science is an adventure of discovery and a source of limitless wonder, giving us richer and more rewarding appreciation of the phenomenal privilege of merely being alive and able to begin to understand it all.

Available in Hardcover, Paperback or ebook for Kindle


Thank you for sharing!

submit to reddit

No comments :

Post a Comment

Obscene, threatening or obnoxious messages, preaching, abuse and spam will be removed, as will anything by known Internet trolls and stalkers, by known sock-puppet accounts and anything not connected with the post,

A claim made without evidence can be dismissed without evidence. Remember: your opinion is not an established fact unless corroborated.

Web Analytics