The Short Answer: (If you don’t read anything else, read this)
Using the force of gravity, astrophysicists predict the existence of a “dark matter” particle. It would make their math work out correctly. Particle physicists predict the existence of a particle with the EXACT same characteristics as the “dark matter particle,” but their predictions are based on the strong and weak forces – which are completely independent from gravity.
The Story and Explanation:
Up until June 2008 I didn’t believe that dark matter was really the best explanation for the inaccuracies that lead to the theory of dark matter. So at the American Astronomical Society conference I went seeking someone who could convince me that dark matter really was the best theory. I found someone.
Why Dark Matter Was Proposed:
You can calculate the mass of things in space based on how they move. You can also look at things in space, and knowing what they’re made of, you can total up what you think they should “weigh” based on how much stuff you can see.
When you weigh a galaxy based on motion you get a mass that’s double or more what you get when you total up the mass of all the the stars, dust, gas, and black holes that you think are actually there. Obviously there’s something missing, something you can’t see. This invisible stuff is called “dark matter.”
Why I Liked Modified Newtonian Dynamics (MOND):
I believe in human fallibility. We’ve gotten so much physics so wrong in the past (We used to think the Earth was the center of the solar system!), that the simplest answer is probably that we just don’t know all the laws of physics yet. Why believe that there’s invisible stuff in the universe, when you can just change the math?
That’s what MOND says: we’re doing the math wrong. If you change the math in a certain way, it matches our observations better, and you don’t need some mysterious invisible matter. MOND’s specific way of changing the math works for galaxies, but it doesn’t apply to anything else. In fact, it makes that math for other physics not work very well at all. So, I agree, MOND itself is wrong, but maybe there’s another change we could make to the math instead.
What Convinced Me:
There is another, simple change you can make to the math to make it work: add a “dark matter particle.” If you account for these particles in your math, everything works. Yeah, pretty much everything.
More importantly particle physicists have also predicted the existence of a “dark matter particle.” Particle physicists are doing completely different math than astrophysicists. Astrophysicists use gravitational force and electromagnetic force (light) to do all their observations and calculations. Particle physicists are working on a different scale: they can have laboratories and manipulate particles, and the elementary forces they study are the strong force and the weak force. This means that they independently came up with the need for a “dark matter particle.” They weren’t even solving the same equations. They were truly independent.
Paul Sutter, the grad student I was speaking with says, if they fail to detect dark matter particles with the Large Hadron Collider within the next 10 years, then the theory should be reexamined. Until then, it’s pretty likely.
Where’d I Get My Info?
I spoke with a grad student, Paul Sutter, at the University of Illinois who is studying dark matter.