Newton is widely regarded as one of the most influential thinkers of all time and a key figure in the scientific revolution. First published in 1687, his book, “Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy,” put forward his three laws of motion and his law of universal gravity. His work, which paved the way for Albert Einstein’s theory of relativity, proposed that the further away a planet is from the Sun, the slower it turns, due to a gravitational curve in the universe.
But, an astrophysicist in the Seventies came close to questioning everything that had been taught for the last 300 years, when stars in a faraway galaxy moved at a constant speed, Amazon Prime’s “The Mystery of Dark Matter” revealed.
The narrator said in 2013: “Why are astrophysicists convinced of the existence of a mysterious, invisible matter in the universe?
“Because without dark matter, the universe wouldn’t be the way it is, there wouldn’t be enough gravity for stars and galaxies to rotate at the speed we observe.
“This story began in the Thirties, but the question wasn’t truly asked until the Seventies, by the American Vera Rubin.
Isaac Newton taught us that in our Solar System, the further away a planet is from the Sun, the slower it turns
The Mystery of Dark Matter
“A young mother of three children, Vera chose to specialise in a field where competition from male colleagues wasn’t too fierce.”
The narrator went on to reveal how Dr Rubin, who passed away in 2016, spotted an anomaly.
He added: “Rather than observing black holes, she turned her interests to the stars of the Andromeda galaxy.
“Sir Isaac Newton taught us that in our Solar System, the further away a planet is from the Sun, the slower it turns.
“Vera, therefore, expected the speed of the stars in the Andromeda galaxy to follow this same decreasing curve, but that wasn’t what she observed.
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“The speeds of the stars remained constant, whatever their distance from the centre of the galaxy.”
Dr Saul Perlmutter, a pioneer in the later discovered dark energy, revealed how Dr Rubin had spotted the first signs of a dark matter in the galaxies.
He said: “She was able to see that, as you go further and further out from the centre of the galaxy, you would expect that the stars would be moving slower and slower because they’d be feeling less of the gravitational pull.
“But they weren’t, they kept going further and further out with the same high velocity.”
The narrator explained how Dr Rubin was left with two options with her discovery.
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He added: “What was true for a Solar System was different for a galaxy, would Newton’s theory need modifying, or did we need to come up with a new extremely heavy matter which would create the necessary gravity for these equations to hold true?
“The shy Vera dared not contradict the great Newton, and so opted for the second solution, a hidden mass that allows the stars to rotate just as quickly without being scattered throughout the universe.”
Etienne Klein, a French physicist and philosopher, explained how Dr Rubin’s discovery set the foundations for the theory of a form of dark matter in the universe, exerting a force.
He said: “The idea behind dark matter is that there are anomalies in the behaviour and dynamics of galaxies.
“To understand them we suppose there exists an invisible dark matter that affects the movement of the galaxies.
“But the origin and nature of this matter remain unknown.”
Scientists are still bemused by dark matter, which they believe accounts for approximately 85 percent of the matter in the universe.
However, inspired by some observations which do not fit the theory, some experts are still arguing for various modifications of Newton’s laws of gravity.
Theories put forward include modified Newtonian dynamics, tensor–vector–scalar gravity, or entropic gravity, which attempt to account for all forms of matter in the universe, rather than just the majority “dark” matter.
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