One of the most galling mysteries in physics is that of dark matter and dark energy, the names given to the unknown material and energy that observations suggest permeate the universe, but that we can’t see. Scientists believe that together, these dark materials could account for up to 95 percent of the total mass in the universe.
Now, a researcher at the University of Oxford says a new theory could explain all that “dark phenomena” — and it’s a mind-bender.
The research, published in the journal Astronomy and Astrophysics, suggests that dark matter and energy can both be explained if they’re treated as a “negative mass fluid.” Basically, this invisible fluid behaves the opposite way of all conventional materials: if you push it, it would accelerate toward you instead of away.
Jamie Farnes, the Oxford astrophysicist behind the new theory, created a computer model to explore how this dark fluid would affect the universe. He found that it could explain why galaxies hold together as they spin instead of flying apart — a tantalizing hint that his new model might solve existing astrophysical conundrums.
In an essay for The Conversation, Farnes concedes that the negative mass theory could be incorrect — but also expresses hope that, if it’s borne out by future observations, it could provide a new model for explaining the mysteries of the cosmos.
“Despite these efforts, a negative mass cosmology could be wrong,” he wrote. “The theory seems to provide answers to so many currently open questions that scientists will — quite rightly — be rather suspicious. However, it is often the out-of-the-box ideas that provide answers to longstanding problems. The strong accumulating evidence has now grown to the point that we must consider this unusual possibility.”