Cosmology Physics

What are the alternatives to the endless search for dark matter?

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Dark matter is physics’s equivalent of fossil bacteria on Mars. What if it doesn’t exist? Not even one particle…? An astrophyscist speculates.

The notion that gravity behaves differently on large scales has been relegated to the fringe since Rubin’s and White’s heyday in the 1970s. But now it’s time to consider the possibility. Scientists and research teams should be encouraged to pursue alternatives to dark matter. Conferences and grant committees should allow physicists to hash out these theories and design new experiments. Regardless of who turns out to be right, such research on alternatives ultimately helps to crystallise the demarcation between what we don’t know and what we do. It will encourage challenging questions, spur reproducibility studies, poke holes in weak spots of the theories, and inspire new thinking about the way forward. And it will force us to decide what kinds of evidence we need to believe in something we cannot see …

Hundreds if not thousands of astrophysicists, astronomers and particle physicists now study every aspect of dark matter and every imprint it might have on the cosmos, with state-of-the-art computers, telescopes and particle accelerators. Dark matter research has dwarfed modified gravity research for decades, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that dark matter is that much more convincing a theory. Instead, early on, some scientists thought it was a natural solution, others followed their view, and the scales tilted to their side.

Today’s seeming dominance of dark matter wasn’t inevitable. The processes through which scientists develop theories are heavily influenced by all sorts of historical and sociological factors, a point eloquently made by Andrew Pickering, emeritus philosopher of science at the University of Exeter and the author of Constructing Quarks (1984), a 36-year-old book that’s still relevant today. Ramin Skibba, “Does dark matter exist?” at Aeon

3 Replies to “What are the alternatives to the endless search for dark matter?

  1. 1
    Seversky says:

    What alternative is there to find out whether or not dark matter exists than to search?

  2. 2
    Retired Physicist says:

    Maybe gravity works differently at large scales. But I wouldn’t bet the rent on it. Over and over General Relativity passes new tests. If the ten equations of GR are wrong, I’d really like to see the modified math. There would be some Swedes on the phone for you in short order. 😀

  3. 3
    Blackstone says:

    There is an alternative model that suggests that the strongest forces in the universe (rather than the weakest, gravity) may just have something to do with the form the universe takes.

    The Electric Universe model and plasma cosmology propose that the electromagnetic phenomenon called the Z-pinch, (also called zeta pinch or Bennett pinch after Willard Harrison Bennett 1903-1987), is a dominant organizational phenomenon in the cosmos. This model has pretty impressive predictive power for how things should look but hasn’t gained much traction with the entrenched positions in academia.

    I guess no-one wants to admit to chasing a ghost for 30 years or more.

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