There is a significant anomaly in the relation between the speed with which galaxies spin and their observable mass. Since mass and rotational speed are directly proportional, the more mass a galaxy has, the faster it must spin to retain its shape and not implode on itself. In the early 20th century, two Dutch astronomers, Jacobus Kapteyn and Jan Oort , noticed that galaxies actually spin quite a bit faster than can be accounted for by their mass as gauged from the radiation they emit.
They hypothesized that, therefore, there must be some form of resistance, caused by a mysterious type of matter that does not emit light or any other form of electromagnetic radiation by which we could observe and measure it. They proposed to call it ‘dark matter’.
Science is based on measurement and so the idea of something beyond measurement was for a long time regarded with derision and horror by the scientific community. All the more so since it implies that by far the larger part of the universe is made up of the stuff.
However, some 80 years later technology became available to detect curvatures in the path of light coming from deep space. Like everything else, light is subjected to gravity and so it bends toward anything that has mass, be it ever so slightly. Astronomers Vera Rubin and Kent Ford of the Carnegie Institute in Washington D.C. made use of this to prove the existence of dark matter beyond doubt. They estimated that only 10% of the total mass of the universe can be detected. The other 90% is dark.
If not in a real sense, then at least in a metaphorical one, it offers an explanation for Murphy’s law that anything that can go wrong, will go wrong and that anything enjoyable is either illegal, immoral or fattening. Perhaps it also has something to do with the phenomenon that crud, waste and dust accumulate in places that are out of sight and often out of reach.
Life After Death
There may also be a tangent with another intangible force, the one that keeps the 7500 parts of our body together, known as the soul. An attempt to prove the existence of the soul directly by weighing people right before and after death, which gave rise to the popular notion that it weighs about 21 grams, did not account for any of numerous other possible causes for the difference and had no scientific merit whatsoever. The existence of the soul can only be inferred from its absence.
When the soul flies away, it leaves behind those 7500 parts, many of which could replace failing components in other people. It could also benefit the community as a whole if donated to science for research. But we have deep reservations to share our only true possession, even if we have no use for it anymore. Because of that and because of other apprehensions about organ donation, there is a chronic shortage of spare body parts; 22 people die each and every day waiting for a transplant.
Halloween is as good a time as any to consider that the ultimate in recycling is bequeathing your body to the community after you pass away. A reliable website to find out more about organ donation is organdonor.gov, administered by the US Dept of HHS.
The soul may be the only exception to the rule of gravity. Gravity is by no means undetectable, as we all know too well, but it is quite intangible, which is frustrating to scientists trying to figure this fundamental force into to picture of life, the universe and everything. Albert Einstein theorized 100 years ago that gravity moves in waves, but in our earthly environment, these waves are so infinitesimal as to be undetectable. However, over a billion years ago two black holes collided in the backwaters of the universe with such a tremendous splash, that the eddies reached the earth in 2015 and were just large enough to record. Quite a feat considering that they were much smaller than an atom – so much so that the scientists that led the project were awarded the Nobel Prize in physics for the achievement.
This then is the sound of two black holes colliding:
A collision occurs when an object attempts to move into a space that already occupied by another object. If the space were empty, the object would just keep on moving. It is like those sliding-tile puzzles, often given out as party favors, usually a 4×4 array with 15 tiles bearing numbers or letters or segments of an image, and one empty spot. The trick is to move the tiles around until they are in proper order. Interestingly, while you are moving the tiles one way, the empty spot moves the other way. It seems to reflect on a very small scale the duality of the universe as a whole. There can be no action without reaction.
There can be no life without death. So, where there is gravity, there must be levity.
Perhaps that is the force that governs the soul.
The Weekly Green is a KXCI mini-program on environmental topics from Southern Arizona and the rest of the universe.
The program airs on Monday 5:55 PM, Tuesday 4:55 AM, Wednesday 9:55 AM & 5:55 PM, Thursday 7:55 PM and Saturday 9:55 AM. Barring circumstances, first airing is Wednesday at 10 am.