Dark Universe 2013: New Space Film Gives Invisible, Dark Matter A Leading Role

The Universe's Mysterious Scaffolding Enjoys Prominent Role In New Exhibit

By Gabrielle Jonas on October 28, 2013 3:55 PM EDT

Dark Universe, a film launched by the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) Monday, graphically describes the existence of dark matter, dark energy and the Big Bang for the first time in one of the most sophisticated 3D planetarium films ever aimed at a lay audience. The Museum plans to distribute the film to planetariums and museums nationwide next year.

The pulse-quickening 25-minute film, written byTimothy Ferris, author of Coming of Age in the Milky Way, and produced by AMNH itself, provides an exhilarating perspective of the universe as we know it, and, as we don't know it. So-called "dark matter" and "dark energy" -- though vividly described in the film -- have yet to be detected.

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"Dark matter and dark energy are two things about which we know nothing, so we astrophysicists gave them place-holder names," Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson, director of the Frederick P. Rose Planetarium at the AMNH told iScienceTimes.com, "so the words are not describing to you what they are or what they are in connection to each other. They just share the word, 'dark.'" He added. "Sometimes I think we should call them Fred and Wilma."

But evidence about how clusters of galaxies hang together indicate that Fred and Wilma do exist, Dr. Tyson said, and hence the roles they enjoyed in the film which he so eloquently narrated. "Welcome to the universe," he said ahead of the film's airing, quoting Leonardo da Vinci that, "'A painter should begin every canvas with a wash of black, because all things in nature are dark except where exposed by the light''."

Astrophysicists now think that dark matter is the un-seeable scaffolding of the universe, characterized in the film as foreboding black webs slung between galaxies and super-galaxies. As fantastic and slightly nightmarish as that image appeared, all the images in Dark Universe were meticulously generated from scientific data and images generated by telescopes, planetary probes, NASA satellites, and star atlases, according to Carter Emmart, the director of Dark Universe and the Museum's director of astro-visualization and a pioneer in how planetarium theaters present science to the public through immersive data visualization. They were also generated from theory.

Until recently, astrophysicists were convinced and had in turn convinced the lay public that the universe was expanding at an ever slower rate, and that one day, everything in the universe would tumble back together again. Now conventional wisdom among astrophysicists is that the universe is expanding at an accelerated rate as "dark energy," emanating from "dark matter" pushes the universe "outward."

Since dark matter appears to have a mass six times that of ordinary, seeable matter, the dark energy it allegedly emits may be more than six times the strength of magnetism, depending on the distance covered, of course.

"There are extraordinary things afoot in the universe," Dr. Mordecai-Mark Mac Low, a curator in the Museum's Department of Astrophysics and Division of Physical Sciences told iScienceTimes.com. "It may be a new kind of elemental particle." Dr. Mordichai believes that experiments conducted by Columbia University in an underground Italian accelerator might yield exciting results on such a particle soon.

But Dr. Tyson conceded that we may never achieve a full understanding of these forces or the universe itself. "Certain things that lie before us may be out of reach for us to understand," the man who has devoted his life to teaching the public to understand the universe said, "or even beyond our comprehension to ask."

© 2012 iScience Times All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.

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