German TV channel 3 Sat about dark matter. It was the usual thing, of rather
good quality, but this time I paid attention in an unusual way. They had three
astrophysicists talking in the studio who recounted the history and then gave
an overview of the current state of things in cosmology. They explained that
there has to be a large amount of mass in the universe – not accounted for by
the observable objects – that keeps stars fixed in galaxies which otherwise
would drift apart like clouds in a storm. Then they said that this matter must
be made out of something we don’t know yet, not out of elements, not even out
of the stuff the elements are made of. And that’s where it struck me; I’d heard
that one before. In the good old cosmology, Plato’s, Ptolemy’s, Copernicus’,
the planets and the stars were fixed on spheres made out of an invisible
substance, not composed of the elements, something altogether different from
the four elements: the Quintessence.
Later they went on to talk about certain
observations that have been made that are not in accordance with current
theories. There seem to be objects out there, galaxy arms and such – nothing
that can be swept under the rug easily – that are spinning faster than the
model allows for, or showing strange disturbances in their period. In order to
account for these, the theories have had to be extended to include so called “dark
energy”, a concept that apparently can’t be imagined or explained by anyone but
seems to be indispensable to reconcile science with reality. But as it happens,
we’ve heard that one before too, haven’t we? Good old Ptolemy and Copernicus
knew it too, only they called it by a more honest, appropriate name: Epicycles.
Epicycles and Quintessence indeed, that’s where
four centuries of science have gotten us to; Kepler must be turning in his
grave. And the Catholic Church should take back any admissions of wrongdoing in
its dealings with Galileo.
I want to follow this up with another post that
will have to wait a bit. In the meantime, there is also a good album of Quincy Jones' by the same title.