NASA turns to the dark
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'Normal' matter = 5 percent of the particular
universe we happen to be somewhat
familiar with, though our understanding
of that 5 percent is still in its infancy, and
only recently has science discovered
and begun investigating (from afar) the
nature of some of the larger planets that
orbit stars apart from our own.
Heck, humans have only traveled to one
non-earth body, the moon, and currently
have plans to return there, but elsewhere?
Maybe Mars, in a couple of decades or
so, over --50 years-- since landing on the
Perhaps the biggest mystery, other than
whether or not life exists elsewhere, and
whether or not intelligent life (like us) is
common or rare, and whether intelligent
life (like us) can survive long enough to
make contact with other intelligent life,
'Dark' matter = 25 percent of the particular
universe we happen to be unable to sub-
stantiate, yet, as to its nature.
'Dark' energy = 70 percent of the particular
universe we inhabit, something scientists
happen to have stumbled on a few short
years ago, discovering that the particular
universe we happen to be in is not slowing
its 'big bang' expansion, as was expected,
but instead, is mysteriously speeding up.
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July 3, 2007
NASA turns to the dark side
'Beyond Einstein' probes to investigate shadowy
force pushing universe apart
Tom Spears, CanWest News Service
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NASA has announced five new space missions to
track mysteries that go "beyond Einstein"
- where the universe came from,
- what it's made of, and
- whether space has edges.
The plan is to have two major observatories in space
and three smaller probes, to track mysterious black
holes and an even greater mystery
- potent but undetectable energy that pushes
the universe apart.
The first launch is set for 2015.
NASA says its new Einstein Probes Office will
"provide key information to help answer funda-
mental questions about the origin and evolution
of the universe."
"If you go back 10 years, we still were of the
view that the universe might stop its expansion,"
says astronomer Paul Delaney of Toronto's York
Since then, astronomers have found that the uni-
verse is not only continuing to expand, but its
spread is speeding up.
And the force pushing it is just plain weird. Even
astrophysics experts say so, and these are people
who believe that gravity can bend space and time,
and that an electron can be in two different places
Pushing the universe apart is something called dark
energy -- "dark" in the sense that we can't observe
it in the way we see light or sense heat and X-rays.
"Seventy per cent of the universe is dark energy.
None of us know what the damn stuff is... yet it's
70 per cent of everything," Delaney says. "Fact is
stranger than fiction."
By contrast, just five per cent of the universe is
"normal" matter. The remaining 25 per cent is dark
matter -- like dark energy, something we can't see.
This tantalizes astronomers. As NASA said in an-
nouncing the new project, Earth's surface is 70 per
cent water, and what would it be like if we couldn't
see or feel water?
All we know is dark energy's effect. It exists in
vacuums and it's repulsive: It pushes things apart.
"NASA as well as a variety of observational efforts
from the ground have begun to tune themselves to
a very direct assault on dark energy," Delaney says.
The Beyond Einstein Program consists of five pro-
posed missions. The big ones are the Laser Inter-
ferometer Space Antenna, to orbit the sun measur-
ing gravitational waves in our galaxy and beyond,
and Constellation-X, to view X-rays emitted by mat-
ter falling into black holes.
Smaller probes would investigate the nature of dark
energy, the physics of the Big Bang, and the distri-
bution and types of black holes in the universe.
A sample question: Is there an edge where regular
space stops and a black hole begins?
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