In my last post, “What Is Dark Matter,” I mentioned that most of the scientific community accepts the experimental evidence confirming the existence of dark matter. Rightly so, since the experimental evidence of its existence is incontrovertible. Here are the salient facts that experimentally indicate the existence and location of dark matter:

  • The rotation of stars, planets, and other celestial masses orbit galaxies, like ours, too rapidly relative to their mass and the gravitational pull exerted on them in the galaxy. For example, an outermost star should be orbiting slower than a similar-size star closer to the center of the galaxy, but we observe they are orbiting at the same rate. Based on this observation, the scientific community asserts there is more mass in the galaxy than we are able to observe. The call this mass dark matter.
  • We can see the effect dark matter has on light. It will bend light the same way ordinary matter bends light. This effect is gravitational lensing. The visible mass is insufficient to account for the gravitational lensing effects we observe. Once again, this suggests more mass than what we can see.
  • We are able to use the phenomena of gravitational lensing to determine where the missing mass (dark matter) is, and we find it is throughout galaxies. It is as though each galaxy in our universe has an aura of dark matter associated with it. We do not find any dark matter between galaxies.

While it is true that all evidence has led the scientific community to believes that dark matter is real and abundant, making up as much as 90% of the mass of the universe, its true nature is still a mystery. The current theory among the scientific community is that dark matter is  a slow-moving particle that travels up to a tenth of the speed of light, and neither emits nor scatters light. In other words, it is invisible.  Scientists call the mass associated with dark matter a “WIMP” (Weakly Interacting Massive Particle).

For years, scientists have been working to find the WIMP particle to confirm dark matter’s existence. All efforts have been either unsuccessful or inconclusive. This raises a significant question. Are we on the right track? Is there a WIMP particle? To address this question, let’s consider the experimental evidence:

  1. The Standard Model of particle physics does not predict a WIMP particle. The Standard Model, refined to its current formulation in the mid-1970s, is one of science’s greatest theories. It successfully predicted bottom and top quarks prior to their experimental confirmation in 1977 and 1995, respectively. It predicted the tau neutrino prior to its experimental confirmation in 2000, and the Higgs boson prior to its experimental confirmation in 2012. Modern science holds the Standard Model in such high regard that a number of scientists believe it is a candidate for the theory of everything. Therefore, it is not a little “hiccup” when the Standard Model does not predict the existence of a particle. It is significant, and it might mean that the particle does not exist.
  2. No evidence of the WIMP particle has surfaced from particle accelerator data, including data gather from experiments using the the Large Hadron Collider (LHC). This is particularly concerning since super colliders have successfully given us a glimpse into the early universe, the time frame from which most of the scientific community believes dark matter originated.
  3. To sum it up, all experiments to detect the WIMP particle have to date been unsuccessful, including considerable effort by Stanford University, University of Minnesota and Fermilab.

That is all the experimental evidence we have. Where does this leave us? The evidence is telling us the WIMP particle might not exist. We have spent over a decade, and unknown millions of dollars, which so far leads to a dead end. This appears to beg a new approach.

To kick off the new approach, consider the hypothesis that dark matter is a new form of energy. We know from Einstein’s mass-energy equivalence equation (E = mc2), that mass always implies energy, and energy always implies mass. For example, photons are massless energy particles. Yet, gravitational fields influence them, even though they have no mass. That is because they have energy, and energy, in effect, acts as a virtual mass.

If dark matter is energy, where is it and what is it? Consider these properties of dark-matter energy:

  • It is not in the visible spectrum, or we would see it.
  • It does not strongly interact with other forms of energy or matter.
  • It does exhibit gravitational effects, but does not absorb or emit electromagnetic radiation.

Based on these properties, we should consider M-theory (the unification of all string theories that mathematically suggests there may be ten spacial dimensions, not three, as well as a time dimension). Several prominent physicists, including one of the founders of string theory, Michio Kaku, suggest there may be a solution to M-theory that quantitatively describes dark matter and cosmic inflation. If M-theory can yield a superstring solution, it would go a long way to solving the dark-matter mystery. I know this is like the familiar cartoon of a scientist solving an equation where the caption reads, “then a miracle happens.” However, it is not quite that grim. What I am suggesting is a new line of research and theoretical enquiry. I think the theoretical understanding of dark matter lies in M-theory. The empirical understanding lies in missing-matter experiments.

What is a missing-matter experiment? Scientists are performing missing-matter experiments as I write this book. They involve high-energy particle collisions. By accelerating particles close to the speed of light, and causing particle collisions at those speeds, they account for all the energy and mass pre- and post-collision. If any energy or mass is missing post-collision, the assumption would be it is in one of non-spatial dimensions predicted by M-theory.

Why would this work? M-theory has the potential to give us a theoretical model of dark matter, which we do not have now. Postulating we are dealing with energy, and not particles, would explain why we have not found the WIMP particle. It would also explain why the Standard Model of particle physics doesn’t predict a WIMP particle. Postulating that the energy resides in the non-spatial dimensions of M-theory would explain why we cannot see or detect it, except for its gravitational effects. Why is dark matter able to exhibit gravity,, especially from a hidden dimension? That is still a mystery, as is gravity itself. We have not been able to find the “graviton,” the mysterious particle of gravity that numerous particle physicists believe exists. Yet, we know gravity is real. It is theoretically possible that dark matter (perhaps a new form of energy) and gravity (another form of energy) are both in a different dimension. This framework provides an experimental path to verify both M-theory and the existence of dark matter (via high-energy particle collisions).

This is a conceptual framework, but fits the observations. I am not suggesting we abandon our search for the WIMP particle. However, I suggest we widen our search to include the possibility that dark matter is not a particle, but a new form of energy.