Something Dark

"Something Dark" is a photo journey in which I explore the fascination with the unknown and the unseen in cosmological research. The pictures setting is Atacama Desert in Chile.

Thoughts and Background

The unknown, the undetected and invisible due to their mystery, have always been of great fascination to scientists. There is a word
for these things that are not yet understood, not yet fully discovered, not yet defined. They‘re called “dark“ - as impossible to see
or detect. Our eyes have such a great impact on how we discover, how we understand and most of all - what we believe in. So how do we discover something that always escapes the eye? How can we believe in something that cannot be seen? Cosmologists teach us about dark matter and dark energy that are discovered mostly by their appearances, their influence on the movements of planets, galaxies and how our universe develops and expands.


Cosmology, the studies of the origin and evolution of our universe, has its roots in philosophy. But, since more and more things have become measurable, cosmology has gradually evolved into a serious science. However, philosophy still plays a very important role,[1] as it allows scientists to speculate and to guess at the unexpected. We must not forget, however, that every scientific theory is still a theory. We can never be certain that a theory is correct. “The distinguishing feature of a scientific theory is“, as quoted by Astrophysicist Carlos J.A.P. Martins, “not, that it can be verified but, rather, that it can be falsified.“[2] In other words, progress in science is somewhat largely determined by the productive failure of theories.


Reflecting the steps of researchers, I find them surprisingly overlapping to my understanding of a journey. I am thinking about the way you choose in order to get somewhere, although - with the things that happen on the way - your destination might change over time. And I find myself “out there“ somewhere, always on the move, heading from one point to another, and searching for an idea or a distraction. On the largest scale, you cannot know where you might end up. The fact that a journey can be planned doesn’t mean that all journeys have got to work out as planned. Thinking only about the goal doesn’t help the process. It is never about the goal. Heading for a specific place, where you might want to be, can make you blind to the process. One may miss the incredible things that happen right there in front - reachable to your arms and eyes.


Sometimes cosmologists develop a theory that solves a problem embraceable by it‘s simplicity. Then they’ll do the maths to see if it works.[3] Like Einstein, many scientists favor the idea of a simple universe, which often means that it can be explained without the need for too many new ingredients. For example, when Einstein first tried to explain the equation of gravity in 1917 he invented an unknown quantity, the “cosmological constant“. This theory was supposed to explain our universe’s history. At that time everyone was assuming that our universe is somehow static, unchanging over time. With the later discovery that the universe is expanding, and then, however, not only expanding, but in an accelerating way, the cosmological constant, also known as lambda, introduced a lively exchange of disappearing and reappearing into cosmologists’ theories.


Looking for the candidates, or one right candidate, of dark matter is a step by step operation. A part of it is like an exclusion procedure. In several laboratories, mostly deep down the underground to avoid interfering elements, scientists are eager to catch one of those elusive particles, to prove the long-considered theories of dark matter. Manfred Linder, from Max Planck Institute, compared the search to playing pool with one invisible ball. If one of the visible particles hits the invisible one there will be scattering events that one is able to see - an impulse of light which can be measured with light sensors.[4]


Saul Perlmutter, who was among the astrophysicists who discovered the accelerating expansion of the universe, which earned him the 2011 Novel Prize in physics, once said, “what drives scientists into astronomy is not the wish to prove what we already know, but to catch the universe in doing something really bizarre. And you can just go out and make it good over and over again.“[5]

[1] R.H. Dicke, American Journal of Physics, 1963
[2] Carlos J.A.P. Martins, Manuscript, pp 5, 6, 7, 2020
[3] R.H. Dicke, Richard Feynman, pp 24/123 „The 4% Universe“ - Richard Panek, 2011
[4] Manfred Lindner, Max Plack Institute, Deutschlandfunk, „Hinweis auf der Suche nach Dunkler Materie“, 18.06.2020
[5] Saul Perlmutter, p. 243, „The 4% Universe“ - Richard Panek, 2011