What’s in the dark? Countless generations have gazed up at the night sky and asked this question—the same question that cosmologists ask themselves as they study the universe.
The answer turns out to be surprising and rich. The space between stars is filled with an exotic substance called “dark matter” that exerts gravity but does not emit, absorb, or reflect light. The space between galaxies is rife with “dark energy” that creates a sort of cosmic antigravity causing the expansion of the universe to accelerate. Together, dark matter and dark energy account for 95 percent of the content of the universe. News reporters and science journalists routinely talk about these findings using terms that they assume we have a working knowledge of, but do you really understand how astronomers arrive at their findings or what it all means?
Cosmologists face a conundrum: how can we study substances we cannot see, let alone manipulate? A powerful approach is to observe objects whose motion is influenced by gravity. Einstein predicted that gravity can act like a lens to bend light. Today we see hundreds of cases of this—instances where the gravity of a distant galaxy distorts our view of a more distant object, creating multiple images or spectacular arcs on the sky. Gravitational lensing is now a key part of the international quest to understand the invisible substance that surrounds us, penetrates us, and binds the universe together.
A Ray of Light in a Sea of Dark Matter
offers readers a concise, accessible explanation of how astronomers probe dark matter. Readers quickly gain an understanding of what might be out there, how scientists arrive at their findings, and why this research is important to us. Engaging and insightful, Charles Keeton gives everyone an opportunity to be an active learner and listener in our ever-expanding universe.
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