10 November 2016

BOOK REPORT: Dark Matter and the Dinosaurs by Lisa Randall

Dark matter is a type of matter.

It’s not dark in color. And it’s not evil.

It’s actually more like transparent matter, meaning it doesn’t interact with light or anything else on the electromagnetic spectrum. At least not in a way that is strong enough for us to detect. At least not yet. So dark matter kind of goes on its merry way, ignoring us. In fact, odds are that you’ve had a few particles of this transparent matter pass right through you sometime in the last hour. Yep, it’s true. Dark matter is crazy stuff.

But dark matter does have mass. It’s a real substance.

In fact, about 27% of the total mass and energy in the universe is dark matter. So nearly a third, right? Which doesn’t seem like too huge of a number. But guess what percentage ordinary matter takes up? You know, ordinary matter, like carbon atoms and H2o and the other stuff we can touch… Ordinary matter is only 5% of the universe! That’s means our whole planet is a pretty unusual occurrence when you glance around space.

So if we can’t see dark matter using light or infrared or Superman vision, then how do we know it’s even there?

Imagine someone tossed a backpack and you tried to catch it, but it ripped out of your grip and crashed into the floor so hard it broke the concrete. Your natural reaction would be, “What’s in your backpack?”

This same thing is going on in the universe. Galaxies twirl around themselves and interact with each other in a way that suggest there’s something heavy that we can’t see. So scientists are asking the universe, “What’s in your backpack?”

They’re not sure what it is, but they know a few things about it, like that there’s a lot of it and that it doesn’t interact with light. So they decided to call this mysterious thing dark matter. It’s just like the thing hidden inside the bag—we see its effects, but we haven’t gotten a good look at it yet.

This is what Dark Matter and the Dinosaurs is about.

Want to know my favorite part of the whole book?

The author, Lisa Randall, speculates on dark matter and dark energy, which leads to her wondering about dark light and dark life. In other words, she, a famous particle physicist and an atheist, believes there could be a type of life with actual mass that is right next to us but undetectable! This, to me, sounds exactly like she’s describing the spiritual realm from Avatar: the Last Airbender. A famous scientist is saying this is possible! Amazing.

I have to say that had I read this book before writing ECKSDOT, the story might have turned out different. (But don’t worry: I have no regrets.)

In conclusion, this is an interesting book. Oh, and aside from dark matter, it gets into comets and meteoroids and the Kuiper Belt, which sounds cool but wasn’t quite Stephen Hawking good.

Still, a fascinating read.

P.S. Dr. Randall reminds me of Ellie Arroway from my favorite book/movie CONTACT.

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