Astronomers are upto their eyeballs this month with stuff, we have never seen before, reminding us as we fill out our tax returns, that this universe is not only stranger than we imagine, its stranger than we can imagine. Aye, Sir Eddington!
For starters, Tabby’s Star already caused a bit of argy bargy among boffins worldwide and although the satisficing explanation so far, points to a ‘broken comet turned dust cloud’ swirling about the star; which recently dimmed to a record low and if anything, left a pesky shadow of doubt in its wake. That is, unless you like the electric sun model to explain away its fluctuating incandescence as a faute de mieux to the Dyson swarm.
Imagine going to your local amusement park next, only to realize this time that every single ferris wheel you jump on, no matter what shape, size, style…somehow completes a rotation, uncannily every one minute. Enter, your local neighbourhood cosmic clock! Stargazers are now finding, regardless how big or small, or what direction you look at, every galaxy out there completes a rotation every 1 billion years or 1 Giga year. Is the universe a great time machine as Descartes saw it, a watch created and wound up by the great watchmaker? Indeed, the very history of science likens it to a clockwork universe ticking along as a perfect machine with gears governed by laws of physics, making every part of the machine predictable…
The case of missing dark matter. Last week, astrophysicists found a wraithlike galaxy similar to ours, but with little or no dark matter, refreshing the whole debate for Popper Falsifiability of dark matter, which is widely assumed as the building block of galaxies. Interestingly, the same team earlier found a class of galaxies with nothing but dark matter so either, there is more than one way of making up a galaxy without dark matter or dark matter is something else, an exotic quantum state of superfluid coupled with modified newtonian dynamics at play. Funny enough, thinking of dark matter as something else (not weakly interacting massive particles) to solve a strong binding and/or lensing phenomenon only kicks the trouble of proving it doesn’t exist into the long grass, as it actually shows some stuff is there, whether tied to galaxies or not.
I’m reminded of Asimov’s favorite story here, ‘The Gods Themselves’, where different physical laws of two parallel universes allow transfer of matter, giving life in both, an endless source of source. This begets the question; can dark matter naturally ‘decay’ into baryonic matter (i.e matter of every day life) under special conditions or, could a Type III civilization nudge the transformation to meet its energy needs? Not too sure? Pause. Listen to Neil Gaimon and suspend disbelief.
“I like the stars. It’s the illusion of permanence, I think. I mean, they’re always flaring up and caving in and going out. But from here, I can pretend…I can pretend that things last. I can pretend that lives last longer than moments. Gods come, and gods go. Mortals flicker and flash and fade. Worlds don’t last; and stars and galaxies are transient, fleeting things that twinkle like fireflies and vanish into cold and dust. But I can pretend…”