Two scientists have hit upon an entirely new substance that is somewhere between true matter and a property of space itself.
If their theory is proven it could revolutionise our view of the Universe – and its ultimate fate.
The researchers, Yuto Minami at the High Energy Accelerator Research Organization (KEK) in Tsukuba, Japan, and Eiichiro Komatsu at the Max Planck Institute for Astrophysics in Garching, Germany, call the mystery substance “quintessence”.
Almost since the first moment that astronomers realised that the Universe was expanding, they have been arguing about how fast the expansion is happening, and how.
At present the Universe is expanding faster than the theories predict, and at present a force called “dark energy” is thought to be responsible.
The only problem is that dark energy only exists in the minds of scientists and hasn’t been observed in nature.
The new research, published in the journal Physical Review Letters this week, suggests that quintessence might explain the process of cosmic expansion.
Understanding that process will show us exactly how long the Universe will continue to expand, and what might happen when it stops.
Scientist predicts five ways the universe could end billions of years into future
But there’s no agreement yet that this mysterious “quintessence” exists.
It could potentially be responsible light that has been “twisted” on its way from the cosmic background radiation.
As yet there is a debate going on among cosmologists whether the twisted light explanation is valid, but if it’s demonstrated beyond doubt out entire understanding of how the Universe works will be revised.
If quintessence is the solution to the big question about the Universe’s expansion, it will force scientists to scrap all existing theories about whether the cosmos will continue to expand, collapse like a crumpled beer-can, or wink out of existence altogether.
Sean Carroll, a theoretical physicist at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, told Nature : “We’re back to a situation where we have zero idea about how the Universe is going to end.”
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