So, we've moved. Farewell College Park, MD, and hello Lafayette, CA. Better food, a better commute, not as good day care, and some uncertainties about the future. Ah, life.
We're renting a house, which has meant signing up for a whole new batch of utilities. Amongst these, cable television; back in College Park, we had some expanded basic package which included about seventy or eighty channels, including those wacky ones at the top of the list which you only watch when it's really late at night or if you discover that one of the college channels has syndicated broadcasts of BBC News.
Here in Lafayette I apparently signed up for, although as I did it over the phone I don't recall any lists of options, an even more expanded basic cable, which means we get such things as MTV2, VH1 Classic - neither of which, mind you, actually play music videos - BBC America, and a whole host of other channels. I think we are up to 130 or so.
Among these is a real gem - the Science Channel. Now, I like the History Channel and the Discovery Channel, don't get me wrong. But when 50% of your programming is about Hitler and/or Space Aliens, on the one hand, or American Chopper, on the other, well, the factual content is sort of lost amongst the entertainment.
I grew up watching NOVA. I like science. So it's nice to have a channel I can flip on and know that they won't be discussing the history of the Blair Witch or some damn thing. Plus, I have a child who has begun paying attention to the teevee, and I want him to think that his parents watch stuff with some intellectual content. Not that we do, but I want him to think that we do.
This weekend, for instance, the Science Channel had a really interesting program about dark matter. Now, as a layman, I knew a little about dark matter, but this program couched it in terms of the history of the theory (which is not to say, the discovery), and I finally got a solid grounding in what's going on in terms that I could understand.
To wit: we can see a large number of galaxies. We can count, or at least estimate, the stars in them, see how fast they are moving and/or rotating. And, given how much matter we can see in most galaxies, they are spinning far too fast. There's simply not enough gravity - assuming the laws of gravitation are constant - to keep the galaxies together. To explain the observed behavior, there must be a whole lot of matter - nine or more times as much - than we can see.
Hence "dark matter". Stuff that has gravitational pull but cannot be seen. Whose existence we surmise as a means of explaining the galactic behavior we actually see.
Anyhow, there's a lot more about dark matter which you can go look up. What got me thinking on BART this morning, however, was crossing the existance of dark matter with another scientific speculation I'm fond of.
Something on the order of 95% of the matter in the universe is, by current theory, dark matter. (Yes, we and all the atoms we know about, comprising everything we can see, is only 5%). Most galaxies have a "dark matter halo", a shell of dark matter in and around them.
What if the closest sentient beings were made of dark matter?
What if there were a bunch of them?
How weird would that be? Think of your standard science fiction tropes; universes with lots of bipedal humanoid aliens, some non bipedal but still carbon based aliens, and now and then some really weird energy creatures or what have you. What if we're the really odd ones? The wacky bright matter creatures existing in a strange semi-shared dimension with everyone else? A dimension visible only by its minute gravitational effects on the 95% of normal, dark space?
Even given the battery of presumptions that must be made in order to enable our communication with dark matter beings - such as, their existance - how weird is that? Living in - perceiving - only 5% of the universe? Talking to beings who have an almost wholly different frame of reference?
Fortunately, 5% of the universe is, well, pretty darn substantial. I think it will be enough.
Anyhow. Just something to think about.
- Sun Ra
Columns by Sun Ra