Star Trek or Star wars? It’s an age-old debate that has made and broken friendships over the past half century, but it’s incomplete. Debate over Trek or War is based on a false dichotomy which ignores the existence of Battlestar Galactica, Fireflyand Farscape, just to name a few. Actually, Farscape (now streaming on Peacock!) managed to mesh together the things that did both Star wars and Star Trek so much fun, all in one story.
The series was a joint Australian-American effort produced by the Jim Henson Company, who also lent their talents to the make-up, prosthetics and animatronic puppets. The series premiered on SYFY (then the Sci-Fi Channel) in March 1999 and ran for four seasons, as well as a miniseries called Peacekeeping wars (also on Peacock), which wrapped up a few loose ends. The series follows a diverse crew on the run from a militaristic authority aboard a living cyborg spacecraft. Hoping to win the war once and for all, they pursue new weapon technologies powered by wormholes.
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This isn’t the first time we’ve imagined incredible powers waiting to be harnessed in the vastness of space, and it won’t be the last. Wormholes can exist and they can’t. They are supported by the mathematics of Einstein’s general theory of relativity, but we have yet to find one in nature. Yet if we’re looking for mysterious forces with the potential to rewrite our understanding of the universe and our place in it, we need look no further than dark matter.
In recent years, the scientific community and the public have become increasingly interested in the dark counterparts of our own universe. When we think of the cosmos, we mostly think of stars and planets, galaxies, nebulae, black holes… you know, the stuff. But in truth, the vast majority of things in the universe are not matters at all. According to our best models, only about 5% of everything in the universe is ordinary matter. Another 24% of the universe is made up of dark matter, and the rest, nearly three-quarters of the total, is dark energy. There is still much we do not know.
Dark matter gets its name from the fact that no matter how hard we try, we can’t seem to see it. We know it’s there, thanks to the gravitational interactions we observe when we look at objects in space, but that’s it. It is the physical equivalent of the feeling that there is someone standing next to you in a pitch black room. You can feel them there even if you can’t see them. That’s sort of how dark matter behaves.
Imagine you are sitting on a trampoline while blindfolded. Suddenly something or someone is with you on the trampoline. You can’t see what it is, you don’t hear any sounds, but you feel the unmistakable sensation of springs and fabric reacting to a new presence. You know something is there because of the way it distorts the fabric and pulls you towards it. This is more or less the relationship we have with dark matter. There is something on the cosmic trampoline with us, but we don’t know what it is or where it came from.
Now Katherine Freese and Marting Wolfgang Winkler, both researchers from the University of Texas at Austin, have proposed a new explanation for the origin of dark matter in a study posted to the arXiv preprint server.
Something like 14 billion years ago, give or take a few hundred million years, the universe exploded in an incredible and unimaginable explosion known as the Big Bang. What was before an infinitesimal singularity of inconceivably dense material let out its breath in a dizzying exhalation, and the universe was born. Within a fraction of a second, the fundamental forces were established and the universe underwent a burst of rapid expansion. Three minutes later, the first protons, neutrons, electrons and neutrinos had formed, and normal matter, mostly hydrogen and helium, began to emerge through a process known as Big Bang nucleosynthesis (BBN). Then it slowed down a bit, the hot and packed plasma that encompassed the entire universe continued to cool. More and more atoms emerged from the quagmire and organized themselves into the first stars, planets and galaxies.
That’s the current picture of the early universe, and it’s served us pretty well, but that doesn’t mean we can’t improve it. If dark matter was also created during the Big Bang, according to the study, we should expect to see a greater level of interaction between dark matter and ordinary matter. Instead, dark matter appears to interact only gravitationally with ordinary matter. Furthermore, there is no evidence that dark matter existed in the earliest stages of the universe.
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To solve both of these problems, scientists propose a second Dark Big Bang that occurs about a month after the Big Bang you know. They suggest that the first Big Bang could have created a large amount of dark plasma, which eventually turned into dark particles and dark matter, in much the same way that ordinary matter did. The creation of dark matter one month after ordinary matter could explain both why we do not see it in the early stages of cosmic evolution and why dark matter does not interact as much with ordinary matter. It could also open up new opportunities to study dark matter with existing and new tools.
According to the study’s authors, ongoing pulsar-timing experiments could be able to detect gravitational waves generated by the proposed Dark Big Bang. In fact, they may have already picked up a signal from the event. Scientists are careful to note that more research is needed and future observations may rule out their proposal, but it may also be confirmed and help us finally unravel one of the universe’s strangest mysteries.
Watch Dark Matters of a Different Kind on Farscape, streaming now on Peacock!