Sacudindo o paradigma da matéria escura

quinta-feira, julho 20, 2017

Shaking the dark matter paradigm

07/18/17 By Ali Sundermier

A theory about gravity challenges our understanding of the universe.

Illustration by Ana Kova

For millennia, humans held a beautiful belief. Our planet, Earth, was at the center of a vast universe, and all of the planets and stars and celestial bodies revolved around us. This geocentric model, though it had floated around since 6th century BCE, was written in its most elegant form by Claudius Ptolemy in 140 AD.

When this model encountered problems, such as the retrograde motions of planets, scientists reworked the data to fit the model by coming up with phenomena such as epicycles, mini orbits.

It wasn’t until 1543, 1400 years later, that Nicolaus Copernicus set in motion a paradigm shift that would give way to centuries of new discoveries. According to Copernicus’ radical theory, Earth was not the center of the universe but simply one of a long line of planets orbiting around the sun.

But even as evidence that we lived in a heliocentric system piled up and scientists such as Galileo Galilei perfected the model, society held onto the belief that the entire universe orbited around Earth until the early 19th century.

To Erik Verlinde, a theoretical physicist at the University of Amsterdam, the idea of dark matter is the geocentric model of the 21st century. 

“What people are doing now is allowing themselves free parameters to sort of fit the data,” Verlinde says. “You end up with a theory that has so many free parameters it's hard to disprove.”

Dark matter, an as-yet-undetected form of matter that scientists believe makes up more than a quarter of the mass and energy of the universe, was first theorized when scientists noticed that stars at the outer edges of galaxies and galaxy clusters were moving much faster than Newton’s theory of gravity said they should. Up until this point, scientists have assumed that the best explanation for this is that there must be missing mass in the universe holding those fast-moving stars in place in the form of dark matter. 

But Verlinde has come up with a set of equations that explains these galactic rotation curves by viewing gravity as an emergent force — a result of the quantum structure of space.

The idea is related to dark energy, which scientists think is the cause for the accelerating expansion of our universe. Verlinde thinks that what we see as dark matter is actually just interactions between galaxies and the sea of dark energy in which they’re embedded.

“Before I started working on this I never had any doubts about dark matter,” Verlinde says. “But then I started thinking about this link with quantum information and I had the idea that dark energy is carrying more of the dynamics of reality than we realize.”

Verlinde is not the first theorist to come up with an alternative to dark matter. Many feel that his theory echoes the sentiment of physicist Mordehai Milgrom’s equations of “modified Newtonian dynamics,” or MOND. Just as Einstein modified Newton’s laws of gravity to fit to the scale of planets and solar systems, MOND modifies Einstein’s laws of gravity to fit to the scale of galaxies and galaxy clusters.

Verlinde, however, makes the distinction that he’s not deriving the equations of MOND, rather he’s deriving what he calls a “scaling relation,” or a volume effect of space-time that only becomes important at large distances. 

Stacy McGaugh, an astrophysicist at Case Western Reserve University, says that while MOND is primarily the notion that the effective force of gravity changes with acceleration, Verlinde’s ideas are more of a ground-up theoretical work.

“He's trying to look at the structure of space-time and see if what we call gravity is a property that emerges from that quantum structure, hence the name emergent gravity,” McGaugh says. “In principle, it's a very different approach that doesn't necessarily know about MOND or have anything to do with it.”

One of the appealing things about Verlinde’s theory, McGaugh says, is that it naturally produces evidence of MOND in a way that “just happens.” 

“That's the sort of thing that one looks for,” McGaugh says. “There needs to be some basis of why MOND happens, and this theory might provide it.”

Verlinde’s ideas have been greeted with a fair amount of skepticism in the scientific community, in part because, according to Kathryn Zurek, a theoretical physicist at the US Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, his theory leaves a lot unexplained. 

“Theories of modified gravity only attempt to explain galactic rotation curves [those fast-moving planets],” Zurek says. “As evidence for dark matter, that's only one very small part of the puzzle. Dark matter explains a whole host of observations from the time of the cosmic microwave background when the universe was just a few hundred thousand years old through structure formation all the way until today.”

Read more here/Leia mais aqui: Symmetry