Take a matter-of-fact look at the universe
By Amanda Jermyn

Reach for the Stars… Amanda Jermyn
February 2011
Have you ever wondered what everything in the universe is made of? When we look around us, the objects in our world such as tables and rocks and the ground beneath our feet seem solid enough, but in fact they are made up of an inconceivable number of tiny molecules. To give you an idea of just how tiny these molecules are, the smallest imaginable drop of water contains about thirty thousand trillion molecules. And each of these molecules is made up of even tinier atoms. Each atom, with even smaller protons and neutrons forming its nucleus, is surrounded by a fuzzy cloud of electrons. So all is not what it appears to be in our seemingly solid world.

Indeed, in recent decades, scientists have found evidence that even atoms and all the particles we commonly think of as matter are just a small portion of the total mass of the universe. From scientific observations it appears that galaxies contain insufficient mass to account for the gravitational forces keeping their constituent stars, gas and dust together. By all rights these stars and other visible matter should be flying apart in space. To explain the fact that they are not, scientists suggest that there is additional matter which we cannot see keeping the galaxies together. They call this dark matter. Though this remains the most widely accepted theory to explain the missing mass, other possible explanations include an unknown force or an error in gravity, or some other unaccounted for effect.

While dark matter makes up about 80% of the matter in the universe, ordinary visible matter makes up only about 20%. And yet there’s more: Visible matter and dark matter together make up only 27% of the total mass and energy of the universe. The remaining 73% is thought to be made up of a form of energy that counteracts the gravitational attraction exerted by matter, and increases the rate at which the universe is expanding. Cosmologists call this force dark energy. One of the great challenges of cosmology is to uncover the exact nature of dark energy and dark matter.

This month join the Springfield STARS Club on Tuesday, February 22nd at 7:30pm at the Springfield Science Museum for a talk by Kevin Kopchynski on Dark Matter and Dark Energy: Who Ordered That? A long-time Western Massachusetts resident, Kopchynski is a computer network administrator and nature and science educator. One of his areas of interest is how mathematical ideas help describe and explain the natural world. An avid photographer, he finds photography to be an ideal way to combine technical skills with a love of nature. In his talk to the STARS Club Kopchynski will discuss why scientists think there is dark matter and dark energy, and why these would not be in any form that is familiar to us. Finally, he will discuss ideas that might provide an answer. Refreshments will be served, and the public is welcome free of charge.