What is dark matter anyway?

Actual gravitational lensing effects as observ...
Image via Wikipedia

I saw a show tonight about dark matter. It was one of those motivating science shows that really gets you thinking. Morgan Freeman was narrating and he’s got the perfect voice to make things sound spectacular.

So imagine there is this stuff that we can’t see. It makes up something like 80% of the mass of every galaxy but is able to pass through itself and the ‘regular’ matter freely without collisions or diversions. It neither absorbs nor emits electromagnetic radiation so far as we can tell.

So it is invisible, has no temperature, and … really, it has no energy in most classical terms. It is just there. But it does have mass and interact with the regular stuff through gravity. It’s just extremely difficult to imagine things that have no analogy. Humans thrive on patterns and similarities.

This stuff doesn’t seem to exist anywhere without the regular stuff. That seems like a clue that they are related somehow. So it might be that this stuff is the in-between connections that hold our normal stuff together, maybe like the cord on a string of christmas tree lights. Maybe they even carry some analogy of an electrical charge but of a gravitational bent. This stuff must have no electrical charge at all or we would have readily detected it long ago.

I don’t pretend to know much about this stuff at all, but it sure makes you think! It is difficult to even come up with an intelligent question to ask about this stuff. I suppose it has to do with the reason we still haven’t explained just how gravity works. For hundreds of years, we have known what gravity does but not how gravity does what it does.

I wonder how the dark matter changes or interacts when a big, old star explodes. I wonder if all of the velocities are still too high. The temperatures are extreme, but dark matter does not respond to temperature. Does the dark matter explode out farther or not at all in these great fireworks. Is there a shadow left behind when stars come to the end of their lives?

I imagine I’ll just have to keep reading, thinking, and asking more questions.


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