June 3, 2020

Review: A Ray of Light in a Sea of Dark Matter

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What is it?

It’s an amazing revelation of modern cosmology to realize that we’re comprised of the rare exceptions of the universe. Baryonic matter, the stuff that you, your Iphone and radio telescopes are made up of, is the left over minority in the cosmos.

It turns out that it’s all dark, at least to our limited primate eyes.  A Ray of Light in a Sea of Dark Matter by Charles Keeton is a short work which narrows in on the subject, looking at the discovery and history of the hunt for dark matter and where the research and the field of cosmology might be headed. Part of the Pinpoints series out from Rutgers University Press, A Ray of Light looks to address a modern question of science in a simple and concise way.

We live in a golden age of astronomy in a time when hard data and evidence has led the study of cosmology and the universe from the realm of philosophy to science. One of the most remarkable things that science also tells us is that from atoms to the depths of interstellar space, reality is mostly… nothing. And though the revelation that a major chunk of the universe is comprised of unseen dark energy and dark matter may seem like a hand-waving argument, there is good evidence for researchers to believe that this must be so.

Mr. Keeton walks us through this bewildering universe of exotic particles, supernova standard candles, and gravitational lenses. Like the Big Bang theory of cosmology itself, we’re seeing a picture of the universe emerge, a redundant bulwark where multiple lines of evidence all point towards the same conclusion.

An associate professor of physics and astronomy at Rutgers University and a research astrophysicist with more than ninety articles in astronomy journals to his name, Keeton knows how to get obscure but key ideas in astronomy across in a clear and concise manner.

Is dark matter ‘MACHO,’ as one school of thought suggests, or ‘WIMP-y?’ The names refer to Massive Compact Halo Objects, or non-luminous or faint objects such as black holes or dwarf stars that may litter the outer galactic suburbs, versus WIMPS, or Weakly Interacting Massive Particles which, though producing reliable effects on small scales, may dominate the large scale picture of the universe as a whole. It is strange to think, WIMPs may be in the very room that you sit and read this in, right now. WIMPs seem to be winning out over MACHOs right now, and several exotic detectors, such as ones buried in an iron mine in Soudan, Minnesota and IceCube (the observatory, not the rapper) looking for neutrinos in Antarctica are on the hunt.

Much of this evidence comes from looking at the rotation rates of galaxies and motions of galaxy groups such as the famous Bullet Cluster. This is science at its best, as predictions of dark matter are set to become theories and laws.

Be sure to read A Ray of Light in a Sea of Dark Matter to get a handle on a fascinating facet of modern cosmology!


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