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ISS Science

Dark Matter Found? $2 Billion Orbital Experiment Detects Hints 173

Posted by Soulskill
from the it-was-in-the-attic-this-whole-time dept.
astroengine writes "A $2 billion particle detector attached to the International Space Station has detected the potential signature of dark matter annihilation in the Cosmos, scientists have announced today. The Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (AMS) was attached to the space station in May 2011 by space shuttle Endeavour — the second-to last shuttle mission to the orbital outpost. Since then, the AMS has been detecting electrons and positrons (the electron's anti-particle) originating from deep space and assessing their energies. By doing a tally of electrons and positrons, physicists hope the AMS will help to answer one of the most enduring mysteries in science: Does dark matter exist? And today, it looks like the answer is a cautious, yet exciting, affirmative."
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Dark Matter Found? $2 Billion Orbital Experiment Detects Hints

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  • Dark matter (Score:2, Interesting)

    So if I have this right and someone please correct me if I don't, dark matter is transparent, we can see right through it, it's intangible and doesn't appear to interact with normal matter except through gravitational effects. Could such a thing be used to make some sort of dark matter highway to provide a gravity well between stars for ships to travel down without expending much energy?

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward
      No.
      • Explanation (Score:5, Informative)

        by Roger W Moore (538166) on Wednesday April 03, 2013 @06:31PM (#43353341) Journal
        First the energy limit on interstellar travel is not getting out of the gravitational well of the sun it is getting up to a large fraction of the speed of light. If your intention was achieve that sort of velocity with a gravitational field then please try this is someone else's solar system because a gravitational field of that magnitude - think black hole - will do nasty things to planetary orbits.

        Second Dark Matter is incredibly diffuse, far more so than normal matter because it only interacts via gravity and - possibly - the weak force. So there it no way to make small, dense concentrations of it like you can with normal matter.

        Finally, the AMS results does not yet show any evidence for Dark Matter. They need to extend their energy by a few bins to see whether the spectrum starts to drop - the current spectrum could be explained by pulsars - the positron excess has been known to be there for some years already thanks to PAMELA and Fermi/Glast(for a slightly more technical announcement with plots see here [web.cern.ch]). So it is a very interesting result but not yet evidence of Dark Matter. However, if it is Dark Matter, it should have a low enough mass to be created in the LHC so we may get a shot at finding whatever it is in 2015 when we turn back on with ~twice the energy. In fact my grad student and I worked on the ATLAS search for Dark Matter models associated with this type of positron-only signature but found no evidence. It's now being repeated with the 2012 data so stay tuned...
        • First the energy limit on interstellar travel is not getting out of the gravitational well of the sun it is getting up to a large fraction of the speed of light. If your intention was achieve that sort of velocity with a gravitational field then please try this is someone else's solar system because a gravitational field of that magnitude - think black hole - will do nasty things to planetary orbits.

          Yes, if you read the rest of the comments the concept isn't within the solar system nor is it a single large gravitational field.

          Second Dark Matter is incredibly diffuse, far more so than normal matter because it only interacts via gravity and - possibly - the weak force. So there it no way to make small, dense concentrations of it like you can with normal matter.

          It does form structures, so I'd say it's too early to make definitive statements about what can and can't be done with it.

          It's now being repeated with the 2012 data so stay tuned...

          Will do.

          • It does form structures, so I'd say it's too early to make definitive statements about what can and can't be done with it.

            That it does - huge, massive structures on a galactic and cosmic scale. The reason for this is that it interacts via gravity and, perhaps, the weak force. I agree that we can say very little about it at all at the moment but I do think that we can say that it will not form structures on a stellar scale which can generate a large enough gravitational field to accelerate an object to close to light speed in a reasonable length of time.

            Yes, if you read the rest of the comments the concept isn't within the solar system nor is it a single large gravitational field.

            You cannot stop a gravitational field at the edge of the solar system - g

            • That it does - huge, massive structures on a galactic and cosmic scale. The reason for this is that it interacts via gravity and, perhaps, the weak force. I agree that we can say very little about it at all at the moment but I do think that we can say that it will not form structures on a stellar scale which can generate a large enough gravitational field to accelerate an object to close to light speed in a reasonable length of time.

              People are good at taking otherwise inoffensive substances and concentrating them into all sorts of volatile configurations. I'm not making any assertions, just blue skying it, but it's too early to say yea or nay at this point.

              You cannot stop a gravitational field at the edge of the solar system - gravitational fields are infinite in extent. In order to have feasible interstellar travel you would need to have a reasonably rapid acceleration. Any gravitational field capable of generating that would disrupt planetary orbits.

              Gravity gets stronger the closer you are to its source. A chain of dark matter 'planetoids' stretching between stars wouldn't have much of an effect on the endpoints, particularly since they wouldn't be in a straight line, or at least not that straight. The idea relies on small pushe

              • People are good at taking otherwise inoffensive substances and concentrating them into all sorts of volatile configurations.

                Dark Matter is not made of atoms nor does it have any electrical charges. You cannot do chemistry with it - it is fundamentally different from any normal form of matter. What you propose is in direct contradiction to the know properties of Dark Matter.

                Gravity gets stronger the closer you are to its source. A chain of dark matter 'planetoids' ...

                Take a high school physics course and then do the maths. To get up to 10% of light speed (30,000 km/s), assuming your planetoid was Earth-sized and neglecting relativistic effects you would need a mass 22 times that of the sun. Now explain to me again how st

                • Dark Matter is not made of atoms nor does it have any electrical charges. You cannot do chemistry with it - it is fundamentally different from any normal form of matter. What you propose is in direct contradiction to the know properties of Dark Matter.

                  So you're saying it's impossible that science will ever be able to create the conditions to cause dark matter to come into being? It's a strange substance, not magical.

                  Take a high school physics course and then do the maths. To get up to 10% of light speed (30,000 km/s), assuming your planetoid was Earth-sized and neglecting relativistic effects you would need a mass 22 times that of the sun. Now explain to me again how sticking a mass 22 times larger than the sun anywhere near our solar system would not severely impair the orbits of the planets?

                  Twice as many would be needed because you have to slow down too. You don't aggregate the gravity on a single point because it's not in a single point, it is stretched over a half dozen light years. This is not a new concept, one variation is the Dyson Slingshot. The only question I'm wondering about is whether or not dark matter offers advant

    • by idji (984038)
      probably not, because you would have to expend energy to move the stuff around in to the position and density to do your bidding, perhaps a bit like moving a moon in front of your spaceship to be pulled along by its gravity, or perhaps like putting a big fan on a yacht to blow wind into the sails.
      • You'd have to expend energy anyway, rocket propulsion technologies of various sorts are pretty much laying down the highway in front of the car as they go, and ripping it up after themselves. While a highway construction crew might be a lot slower and more energy intensive than a car, they only do the job once and make it easier for all the cars that come after them.

        What I'm wondering is, would the nature of dark matter lend advantages over any other material in terms of highway construction.

        • by lgw (121541)

          What I'm wondering is, would the nature of dark matter lend advantages over any other material in terms of highway construction.

          From what we know: no, quite the reverse. Dark matter does not seem to form "structures" of any size. For normal matter, gravity + friction + entropy gives us clumping: atoms into molecules into dust into planets. That doesn't seem to happen with dark matter.

          • Eh, yes it does. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dark_matter#Structure_formation [wikipedia.org] There's even a nice picture of the dark matter structures.

            • by lgw (121541)

              Sigh. That's on the scale of galaxies and clusters, where gravity wins. Dark matter on the scale of stars is uncertain. That's not on the scale of a rocket, or a planet, which requires something other than gravity to keep bits stuck together - on that scale the evidence is there's no such force for Dark Matter. Below the scale of molecules, again, no evidence either way.

    • by The Raven (30575)

      Sure thing, as soon as we can make a road that is downhill both ways. Since that is impossible, your idea is impossible. That is completely ignoring all other practical concerns such as 'if gravity can be felt light years away, it would alter the orbit of the sun' and 'if we could create something with measurable gravitational effects spanning light years between stars, then the amount of energy we expend accelerating and decelerating a spaceship is pretty puny (dozens of orders of magnitude puny) in compar

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      You are describing Aether [wikipedia.org] in which Einstein proved does not exist
    • by steelfood (895457)

      Gravity is very, very weak. Your highway would have to be incredibly dense. And the amount of energy you're going to expend making that is probably better off spent ripping wormholes in the fabric of space and time.

      • Your highway would have to be incredibly dense.

        Or very very long, which handily enough describes the distances between the stars quite nicely.

        • Your idea is just not feasible, for a lot of reasons people have tried to point out to you and that I won't bother repeating since you seem to keep ignoring them. It is a quaint and novel idea that might have a place in soft science fiction but for all those reasons already pointed out it just isn't workable based on our current understanding of physics, and isn't likely to be workable even in the far future.

      • by tnk1 (899206)

        I will say this: right now a great deal of the problem with rocket engines is that you have a reaction mass and throw it out the back to make the ship move in the direction you want. That means you generally have a low energy to weight ratio which makes accelerating/decelerating the ship much more difficult because you do have to carry around your road with you.

        If you can find some way to manipulate the situation so that you don't have to carry that reaction mass around to get the needed velocity changes,

    • Re:Dark matter (Score:4, Insightful)

      by wonkey_monkey (2592601) on Wednesday April 03, 2013 @04:48PM (#43352317) Homepage

      Could such a thing be used to make some sort of dark matter highway to provide a gravity well between stars for ships to travel down without expending much energy?

      No more than it could be used to create a unicorn that poops cookie dough.

      • Thanks, that's very useful. I'll make sure there's a wikipedia entry for every comment I make henceforth and not throw out blue sky ideas for discussion among the interested.

        • by lgw (121541)

          You're throwing out fantastical ideas about stuff that is far outside of what might even be possible. That's not science, nor even science fiction (what might be possible one day): that's just fantasy. Not very interesting.

          • How would you know, you've already made two entirely false assertions, the first is the structure one, the second, well I'll quote another poster below: "No, dark matter contains more baggage than just embodying the discrepancy in galaxy rotation shear. For one thing, the title dark matter presumes that it is, in fact, matter. This is a different hypothesis than various modifications of gravitational force theories (which are not tenable now).". And this is aside from your misuderstanding about the relative

            • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

              by lgw (121541)

              Look, if you just want to ignore science, fine, believe whatever, but don't expect adult conversation. So far all you've said is "what if dark matter, instead of being what we think it is, were magic in this very convenient way?". Beyond that, did you have some coherent point to make?

    • I think it is something simpler: The "dark matter" would simply ordinary matter, but not detectable by us because it do not emit enough radiation and/or is not dense enough to block radiation.
      • by sFurbo (1361249)
        We know it is not baryonic, matter as we have a pretty good idea about the concentration of baryons at the big bang from the distribution of nuclei from the big bang nucleosynthesis. Furthermore, the study of the variations in the cosmic microwave background tells use that around five-sixths of the total matter is in a form which does not interact significantly with ordinary matter or photons. Both facts are mentioned in the WP article on dark matter.
        • I'm aware of that. I just point out that perhaps the explanation is somewhat simpler than a form of "exotic" matter, given that our means of long-range detection may not be good enough. Just another option.
      • I think it is something simpler: The "dark matter" would simply ordinary matter, but not detectable by us because it do not emit enough radiation and/or is not dense enough to block radiation.

        Has been thought of. Has been tested. Empirical data shows that there is not enough non-radiative normal matter for it to be anything near dark matter. Via gravitational lensing and other large scale cosmological experiments, non-radiative matter has already been taken into account when studying other galaxies, and normal matter still comes up as only one sixth of the matter in the universe. All that was being done way back when they were trying to account for the rotational speeds of gravity. Since then, o

  • But what is it? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Hatta (162192) on Wednesday April 03, 2013 @03:43PM (#43351661) Journal

    Of course dark matter exists. There's a discrepancy in our observations, and dark matter is defined as whatever is responsible for that discrepancy. The real question is, what is dark matter? How do we explain its existence?

    • Unless the responsibility for the discrepancy falls upon incorrect theories / understanding of the observations. In which case dark matter turns out to be an iffy equation. Yes, it still technically exists, but the $2 billion dollar particle detector isn't going to find it.

      • Re:But what is it? (Score:5, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday April 03, 2013 @04:02PM (#43351859)

        Unless the responsibility for the discrepancy falls upon incorrect theories / understanding of the observations. In which case dark matter turns out to be an iffy equation. Yes, it still technically exists, but the $2 billion dollar particle detector isn't going to find it.

        We can say, with a very high degree of uncertainty, that the discrepancies are not due to bad theories.

        If our only line of reasoning for Dark Matter was Newtonian physics (for example, if the only evidence for Dark Matter was from rotation curves of galaxies), your thought would be entirely reasonable. Maybe Newtonian mechanics were just wrong on the scale of galaxies. This is one reason why Modified Newtonian Dynamics theories (MoND) were somewhat popular a while ago.

        But the problem is that multiple, *completely independent*, physical theories all show that not only does Dark Matter exist, but all the theories predict consistent amounts of Dark Matter. For example, you can use Einstein's Theory of General Relativity to find out how much Dark Matter there is based on how much light is curved by gravitational effects. Or you can use various areas of Thermodynamics to look at temperatures in galaxy clusters.

        These theories are based on completely different principles and laws. Yet they all predict the same thing.

        So if you want to claim that we being confused by bad theories, you would have to be able to explain why multiple, completely independent theories are not only all wrong, but all wrong in a way such that they return the same wrong answer. That seems extremely implausible, so Dark Matter is, by far, the best explanation.

        • with a very high degree of uncertainty

          Gotcha!

          *ducks*

        • It seems you have a decent command of the subject, but your conclusion is wrong.

          So if you want to claim that we being confused by bad theories, you would have to be able to explain why multiple, completely independent theories are not only all wrong, but all wrong in a way such that they return the same wrong answer.

          Because they are trying to 'fill' the same gap in observed matter! Please, you must see the fallacy of your argument here. They start with the problem: we observe X but our *really good* calcula

          • by sFurbo (1361249)

            Because they are trying to 'fill' the same gap in observed matter! Please, you must see the fallacy of your argument here. They start with the problem: we observe X but our *really good* calculations say it should be Y. Y-X=ammount any theory will have to account for.

            No, the start is a step back from that: Starting with very different theories whose effects we can observe on earth, and expanding the theories to the galaxy or universe domain, they all give the same roughly/exactly the same Y. The simplest answer is that they all fail to take into account the same amount of matter, not that they all just happen to be wrong in just the right way to trick us.

            In science, the 'best fit' theory is shorthand for saying the theory that doesn't solve a problem completely, but by consensus represents the best our human ability can offer in solving that problem at that time in history.

            That is a description of all of science. It never gives us ultimate answers, just better and better approximations o

      • Re:But what is it? (Score:5, Insightful)

        by idontgno (624372) on Wednesday April 03, 2013 @04:17PM (#43352025) Journal

        Like luminiferous aether [wikipedia.org] existed until it didn't [wikipedia.org].

        That said, these particle detections seem analogous to if Morley and Michelson had detected discrepancies in the speed of light attributable to earth's motion through the universe (and therefore relative to the aether). They didn't and the aether theory began to be disproved

        In this case, the theoretical construct (dark matter) is beginning be supported by experimental observations, rather than disproved. So dark matter continues to be a useful concept, even if we're not sure what its tangible form of existence is.

        • by mbkennel (97636)

          The luminiferous aether didn't have any observational or experimental evidence, and the theory was known to be problematic at the time.

        • by Livius (318358)

          Like luminiferous aether [wikipedia.org] existed until it didn't [wikipedia.org].

          And then it did again. Space-time has curvature and energy - that sure isn't the classical meaning 'empty' space. The aether just wasn't material in the sense it was originally conceived.

          Similarly, dark matter is *something* which is explaining a wide variety of observed phenomena with several limits on what it could possibly be. The name is just a matter of labelling.

        • by rknop (240417)

          Dark Matter is not like the luminiferous aether. That was the title of a podcast I made three years ago -- here it is: http://cosmoquest.org/blog/365daysofastronomy/2010/06/26/june-26th-dark-matter-not-like-the-luminiferous-ether/ [cosmoquest.org]

          The luminiferous aether was a theory developed to explain a discrepancy... as was dark matter. The difference is, there are LOTS of different lines of evidence to point towards dark matter. With the luminiferous aether, the theory was tested, and it didn't stand up. With Dark M

          • by ceoyoyo (59147)

            That's not even the real story. There were lots of different aether theories (and lots of dark matter theories). Some predicted Michelson and Morely's result, some the opposite. The latter were disproved. The former weren't, but kind of got ignored when everyone got distracted by shiny relativity (never mind that general relativity is most commonly explained in terms of gravitonic aether - i.e. distorted spacetime). Then quantum field theory came along and now we all believe in many kinds of aether, but we

      • by steelfood (895457)

        Dark matter only accounts for around 30% of the universe's mass. It's gravitational effects are visible, so we're pretty sure it exists in some form or another. It could be a new subatomic particle. It could even be existing bayronic matter that's masked by some advanced alien technology. But it has been observed to exist.

        Dark energy, which makes up the rest of the mass in the universe, is where the alternate ideas based on our incomplete understanding of subatomic physics is possible.

        • by sFurbo (1361249)

          It could even be existing bayronic matter that's masked by some advanced alien technology.

          If there were enough baryonic matter in the universe to account for the dark matter as well, the ratios products of big bang nucleosynthesis would be different than what we observe.

      • by Zorpheus (857617)
        As far as I know AMS was built to look for antimatter, not for dark matter. The antimatter is just an explanation that they came up with to explain an excess of positrons. They were looking for anti-Helium to find out if there are larger amounts of antimatter somewhere in the universe.
    • by Nadaka (224565)

      And that is part of what this device attempts to answer.

      The readings are consistent with the WIMP theory of dark matter.

    • I disagree. Dark Matter is defined as one possible specific solution to this discrepancy.
      Specifically:
      It has to be matter.
      It has to be made up of particles.
      It has to be invisible.
      It has to make up most of the matter of our universe.

      If it did not at least meet all of these criteria, Dark Matter would not exist.

    • Re:But what is it? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by lgw (121541) on Wednesday April 03, 2013 @04:04PM (#43351883) Journal

      Of course dark matter exists. There's a discrepancy in our observations, and dark matter is defined as whatever is responsible for that discrepancy

      To clarify: the "dark matter" hypothesis of the discrepancy in our observations of galaxy (and cluster) rotation rates has already been confirmed by observations of the cosmic microwave background radiation. There were many hypotheses for that discrepancy, but dark matter predicted the correct ratio of baryonic/non-baryonic matter in the early universe - to multiple significant digits (rare in cosmology).

      So while most properties of dark matter have yet to be understood, some are well defined. As far as "how do we explain its existence?", that same question applies equally to "normal" matter.

    • by Hentes (2461350)

      Theories trying to explain gravitational anomalies can be classified in two categories, dark matter theories and modified gravity law theories. Furthermore, the measurements of this experiment can be explained by WIMPs, which is a specific dark matter theory.

    • There are other possible ways to explain the effects than dark matter. The evidence has slowly been building that dark matter is the best explanation, but at one point modifications to our understanding of gravity was also considered. This data adds another piece of evidence that there is mass floating out there that we don't understand, as opposed to there being a term missing from our equations. More interesting, since we've been pretty sure dark matter is the answer for a while now, if they know the e

    • I think this is best explained with a computer analogy, using the concepts of real and virtual:

      If it's there, and you can see it, it's real.

      If it's not there, but you can see it, it's virtual.

      If it's there, but you can't see it, it's Dark Matter.

      If it's not there, and you can't see it, it's gone.

    • by Khashishi (775369)

      No, dark matter contains more baggage than just embodying the discrepancy in galaxy rotation shear. For one thing, the title dark matter presumes that it is, in fact, matter. This is a different hypothesis than various modifications of gravitational force theories (which are not tenable now).

    • I think it is ordinary matter, but we can not detect because it does not emit enough radiation (for example, cold dust away from heat sources) and not be dense enough to block radiation (so you could detect the "shadow" that it causes other sources of radiation)
  • by ganv (881057) on Wednesday April 03, 2013 @03:53PM (#43351763)
    That is a very interesting result. Their first measurements of the positron energy spectrum are consistent with super-symmetry ideas about dark matter collisions creating positron-electron pairs. If it turns out to be right, it will be the first non-gravitational detection of dark matter. But there is not much experimental support for the super-symmetry ideas being used to connect dark matter with positrons, and there are other possible sources of the positron spectrum at the current accuracy. So we'll see. It is great to see they have some results...this experiment has taken a long time and a lot of money. But when you introduce a much more precise way to measure, it usually turns out to be worth the cost and effort in the end.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    A contrary opinion: http://profmattstrassler.com/2013/04/03/ams-presents-some-first-results/

    It's always good to exercise caution with these sorts of things. You all remember the FTL particles a couple years back yes?

  • This is bullshit (Score:5, Informative)

    by iris-n (1276146) on Wednesday April 03, 2013 @06:50PM (#43353449)

    As usual, this is just a press release full of hype.

    They didn't discover dark matter. They measured, with higher precision than ever, the excess in the positron fraction coming from cosmic rays. The existence of this effect, however, was already well-established. The question that was open, and still is, is which is the origin of this effect. One of the possible answers is dark matter. The problem with this answer is that we have to assume a discredited theory -- supersymmetry, and even within this theory a very artificial model of dark matter annihilation. The higher precision of the current measurements does not credence to this answer, nor does it discard more boring answers (i.e. coming from astrophysical processes that do not involve new physics). If you want to understand more about it, please read it from an actual particle physicist [blogspot.co.at]. I am a physicist, but not an astrophysicist nor a particle physicist.

    Please keep in mind that I'm not criticising the AMS experiment itself: its job was to measure this excess with high precision, and this it did quite well. What I'm criticising is the people who have published this irresponsible press release.

    • by Kongming (448396)
      While I'm not a physicist of any variety, the following text from the article also caused me to call its reliability into question:

      "As the moniker suggests, dark matter is dark; it doesn’t interact with electromagnetic radiation."

      Isn't one theory that dark matter is normal baryonic matter, just not baryonic matter that is concentrated or luminous enough to have a measurable effect on any light getting to us?
      • Isn't one theory that dark matter is normal baryonic matter, just not baryonic matter that is concentrated or luminous enough to have a measurable effect on any light getting to us?

        Yes, there is an old theory that can't explain a lot of recent observations.

      • by iris-n (1276146)

        Sorry, this is not the case. Again, I'm not an expert on this, but the best evidence I now that dark matter isn't just normal matter that happens to be dark is the Bullet Cluster [wikipedia.org]. The thing is that, even if we can't see the normal matter, we know that it interacts with normal matter, well, normally. So in a collision of galactical clusters, we expect even this dark gas to interact a bit and get left behind, while the interactionless dark matter passes straight throught, and this is what we have observed in

      • by sFurbo (1361249)
        If there were enough baryonic matter in the universe to account for the dark matter as well, the ratios products of big bang nucleosynthesis would be different than what we observe. Furthermore, the study of the variations in the cosmic microwave background tells use that around five-sixths of the total matter is in a form which does not interact significantly with ordinary matter or photons. Both facts are mentioned in the WP article on dark matter.
      • Isn't one theory that dark matter is normal baryonic matter, just not baryonic matter that is concentrated or luminous enough to have a measurable effect on any light getting to us?

        I think you mean "hypothesis". Yes, scientists get carried away with calling their wacky unsupported ideas "theories".

    • by PvtVoid (1252388)
      Wish I had some mod points to mod parent up. It's bang on.

      AMS confirmed (to much higher precision) the excess already observed by PAMELA [wikipedia.org] and Fermi [stanford.edu]. This is interesting. It is also a long way from even an indirect detection of dark matter. Meanwhile, there is no evidence for SUSY [scientificamerican.com]. None. Nada.
  • These results are consistent with the positrons originating from the annihilation of dark matter particles in space, but not yet sufficiently conclusive to rule out other explanations.

    What widely accepted model of particle physics predicts this? Right, NONE.

  • So dark matter touches itself and explodes into positrons and electrons. It's 4x more common mass-wise than regular matter, both have gravity, but only dark matter didn't manage to coalesce into planets and starts? Is there some sort of huge gravity differential or more spread out distribution are they just making things up again?

    P.S. I still think dark matter is a fantasy created from bad math.
  • Look up "proof" in the dictionary. There has never been proof of dark matter existing at all. There's pretty pictures and self-serving, biased, one-sided studies, and sketchy math equations, and really specific experiments that don't consider other possibilities, but zero proof.

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