New theory suggests dark matter may not exist after all

9 Nov 2016

Dark matter concept. Image: Jurik Peter/Shutterstock

Often thought of as the mysterious glue that holds our universe together, dark matter may not exist after all, according to a new gravitational theory.

Despite never being recorded in the observable universe, astronomers estimate that nearly 80pc of everything we know that exists is made up of the mysterious material referred to as ‘dark matter’.

Since the 1950s, researchers have theorised that the universe is largely made up of a type of a matter we cannot see, acting as the glue for the remaining 20pc we can see.

Explaining the unexplained

Dark matter has also helped astronomers answer questions as to why we observe strange behaviours in the universe, such as why the outer regions of galaxies spin much faster than science should allow.

But now, new research published by Dutch astronomer Erik Verlinde, from the University of Amsterdam and the Delta Institute for Theoretical Physics, could throw its entire potential existence into question.

Verlinde outlined his ‘emergent gravity’ theory that suggests gravity is not the fundamental force it has been made out to be for centuries, but rather an emergent phenomenon.

In the same way that temperature arises from the movement of microscopic particles, he explained, gravity emerges from the changes of fundamental bits of information, stored in the very structure of space-time itself.

Goes against Einstein’s theory

Also, where previous theories used dark matter to suggest the peculiar spinning of the outer edges of galaxies, Verlinde’s theory effectively eliminates the need to add such an astronomical placeholder.

“We have evidence that this new view of gravity actually agrees with the observations,” Verlinde said. “At large scales, it seems, gravity just doesn’t behave the way Einstein’s theory predicts.”

One of the fundamental principles of Verlinde’s theory is based on an adaptation of the holographic principle introduced in 1999, whereby all the information in the entire universe can be described on a giant imaginary sphere around it.

Verlinde’s theory however, shows that this idea isn’t entirely accurate, as part of the universe’s information is contained in space itself.

‘Brink of a new scientific revolution’

Unlike our current known force of gravity, this additional information in the bulk of space is a force that aligns neatly with the explanation attributed to dark matter.

The end result of this finding, Verlinde believes, could spark a whole new scientific revolution in astrophysics.

“Many theoretical physicists like me are working on a revision of the theory, and some major advancements have been made,” he said.

“We might be standing on the brink of a new scientific revolution that will radically change our views on the very nature of space, time and gravity.”

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic