The dark matter hunt: Sydney joins the ARC Center of Excellence

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Professor Céline Boehm, head of the School of Physics. Photo: Jayne Ion. Main image above: MPA Garching

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Professor Céline Boehm, head of the School of Physics. Photo: Jayne Ion. Main image above: MPA Garching

Astronomy – and physics itself – are on the verge of a revolution.

Although Einstein's theory of general relativity is proving to be a surprisingly precise predictor of physical events, we also know that something is not right.

The ordinary stuff of matter that we see every day – puppies, mountains, smoke, insects, algae, oceans, planets, butterflies, the Moon and the Sun and our friends – constitutes only 5 percent of the energy of the universe . It's the stuff of stars.

And yet we know from our observations that there is much more; dark matter and dark energy, which make up the rest. We don't know what they are.

"It's a revolution to do," said Professor Céline Boehm, head of the School of Physics at the University of Sydney. "Our laws are not complete and who knows, maybe our interpretation of the laws of physics is completely wrong."

Professor Boehm was named chief investigator of the new $ 35 million Australian Research Council Center for Dark Matter Particle Physics last month.

His job is to help explain what we call dark matter, which we estimate constitutes 25 percent of the entire energy of the universe.

Our observations on rotating galaxies tell us that our understanding of the cosmos is incomplete. If the observable matter were all that existed, then the galaxies will fall apart – and may not even form in the first place.

The outer sections of these clusters of stars should rotate more slowly than their centers and the structures should collapse.

But they don't. They hold together.

"We don't yet know how galaxies rotate the way they do it," said Professor Boehm. "What we do know is that there is something strange that we need to understand. It means that our laws of physics are incomplete. "

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