Dark Matter No Longer Required?

on November 3, 2007
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ScienceNOW: “Dark Matter Not a Done Deal?” Dark matter, a moderately evil-sounding, hypothesized component that is described as helping hold galaxies together, was all the rage just a few months ago. Now, a team of two astrophysicists is arguing that their modified theory of gravity explains the data and leaves no role for dark matter.

The initial justification for dark matter started some three-quarters of a century ago when CalTech astronomer Fritz Zwicky observed stars moving so fast that gravity shouldn’t have held them together. He postulated that an unseen amount of matter—“dark matter”—must be supplying extra gravitational force to rein in the star system. Similar observations have helped entrench the dark matter hypothesis in many astrophysicists’ minds—despite the fact that astrophysicists have not detected the dark matter itself.

Modifying one of Einstein’s equations that describes how mass warps space and time, Moffat outlined how the effect of gravity may be more substantial in galactic scales than in smaller scales.

Trying to explain the data without dark matter, astrophysicists John Moffat and Joel Brownstein of Canada’s Perimiter Institute for Theoretical Physics have published a paper in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society that argues that a modified theory of gravity, which they call MOG, sufficiently accounts for dark matter data. Modifying one of Einstein’s equations that describes how mass warps space and time, Moffat outlined how the effect of gravity may be more substantial in galactic scales than in smaller scales.

The scientists then inserted their MOG hypothesis into models of more than 100 galaxies and more than 100 star clusters. “[I]n all cases, it has successfully predicted their motions ‘without the necessity of adding dark matter,’” reports ScienceNOW.

Of course, the debate is far from over. While dark matter itself has little direct relevance to the account of origins in Genesis (that is, whether it exists or not is not delineated by the Bible), the dark matter hypothesis is substantially entwined in the big bang model—so much so that an open letter in the May 22, 2004, issue of New Scientist carried the following line:

The big bang today relies on a growing number of hypothetical entities, things that we have never observed—inflation, dark matter and dark energy are the most prominent examples. Without them, there would be a fatal contradiction between the observations made by astronomers and the predictions of the big bang theory.1

The statement, penned by a letter-writing group of scientists (mostly secular) who challenge the big bang model, partially reveals how most astrophysical models are founded as much on speculation as on observation. Just as on planet earth, when we look to the skies, the evidence doesn’t itself tell us anything; it must be understood through an interpretive framework, such as Genesis or the big bang model (or a variety of other cosmological models). And often, the bold pronouncements of astrophysicists (and other scientists) are contradicted months or years later, as may be the case with dark matter.


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