One of the reasons I write is to figure out stuff. When it has to go down on paper, things have to be pretty well figured out. So this week, I’m going to figure out some things, dark matter, dark energy and quantum theory.
I don’t have much room, but here goes. First, people who study the stars—cosmologists—have, through the new telescopes in orbit, measured and counted enough stuff out there to conclude that beyond a doubt, the galaxies that make up our universe aren’t behaving the way they should.
You and I can go to a scale and weigh ourselves, and once we do, we understand why sitting down feels better. Gravity is telling us that. In that same way, other galaxies should be acting the way they weigh. They’re not. They’re acting heavier than they are. The extra stuff, for lack of a better name, is called dark matter.
Instead of gravity’s attraction pulling the galaxies together, they’re expanding away from one another. Something is doing that pushing. Something really, really big. They’ve labeled the only explanation for that as dark energy. A lot of dark energy.
So, with the new accurate ways of measuring and calculating all this, the actual fact remains: The universe is only five-plus percent of what we can see. And what we cannot see—or explain—is 94-plus percent. Exactly what’s causing this, and what dark matter and energy are? Nope. Don’t know. In fact, we don’t even know what gravity is, except for it’s a lot more complicated, and involves something called the space-time continuum, which they’re not all that sure about either.
You’re also reading some news about quantum computers, and other quantum stuff. Here goes: It has been proven that the stuff we always were told about the atom, like with the electrons circling about the nucleus like planets around the sun, was wrong. Instead, those electrons exist in a kind of cloud. Yes, they have their home layers, some lower energy, some higher, but they’re a foggy kind of cloud.
Inside that cloud somewhere, these basic electrons, protons, and neutrons can be broken into smaller parts, called quanta, the plural. It turns out they have a lot of small parts. Some of those small parts can be broken in half, by smashing them together. Then some of these parts turn out to come in pairs, like mirror images of each other, and scientists have different ways of describing these pairs. Maybe they call one a plus and the other a minus, maybe they use two different spin directions, or something else. These pairs are called entangled, meaning they’re involved with each other.
They’re entangled kind of like you’re entangled with your brother-in-law, or neighbor, or someone, but really hooked together, so that when we split them apart—which we have—and locate them—which we have and is very hard to do—they have to be themselves.
You might need help roofing your house. Maybe your neighbor will help you; maybe he won’t. You don’t know until you actually call him. So until you call him, he’s both a possible help, and not. But once you call him, and he says no, then the other one of him—if two were possible—says yes.
Quantum particles, where there is another one of “him”, once they’re broken apart, can be sent away from one another some distance, and now, if you identify one of them, and it is, say, spinning up, then the other one has to be spinning down. That gives you a binary situation, and that’s how computers work, and that’s where the research in quantum computers is headed.
Einstein called this “spooky behavior at a distance.” He had trouble accepting it. But since then, new equipment and new ways of proving it have happened. He would have had even more trouble accepting that these paired, entangled particles can do this at speeds much faster than the speed of light, which up until now had been the absolute fastest speed thought possible.
Right now, a lot of research is going into getting them farther apart, to see if this spooky behavior has limits. Plus, if we can make stuff instantly happen at a distance, like sending half an entangled pair away a long ways, maybe we can go with it. Time travel just came a little closer.
Maybe. This is a lot more complex, so this was brief, but that’s the general idea of all of it.