6 significant leaps in the quest to find the shape of the universe
Dark Universe, the planetarium show at the Royal Observatory, tells the story of how scientists built a picture of the universe – and concluded that a vast majority was “missing”.
The latest immersive spectacular at the Peter Harrison Planetarium at Greenwich’s Royal Observatory is the exquisitely rendered exploration of the structure and history of the universe.
Narrated by Neil deGrasse Tyson, Dark Universe moves from Edwin Hubble’s discovery of an expanding universe to the enigma of dark matter and dark energy.
In between, the design team of astrophysicists and visualisation experts, commissioned by the American Museum of Natural History, take the viewer through time and space in a series of sweeping journeys.
How the story unfolds…
1. In the 1920s, astronomer Edwin Hubble using the 100 inch telescope at the Mount Wilson Observatory discovered more galaxies beyond our Milky Way expanding the known universe 100-fold. By measuring these galaxies he discovered that they were all moving away. The universe was expanding in all directions. Everyone is in the centre of their own universe.
2. The logic of the argument that in the opposite direction in time was contraction. The universe must have been infinitesimally small, triggered into expansion by a phenomenon known as the Big Bang 13billion years ago. The universe has an average temperature only 3C higher than the coldest possible temperature – absolute zero. At the Big Bang, scientists suggest the temperature was 1,000 trillion degrees. The theory challenged the accepted “steady state” theory that proposed everything had been more or less the same forever.
3. In 1964 in Bell Laboratories, Arno Penzias and Robert Wilson were trying to eliminate interference on their super-sensitive horn antenna. Despite their efforts, they couldn’t silence a low, steady hum that persisted in their receiver. After removing all the known possibilities they came to the conclusion the signal was light from the Big Bang, now known as Cosmic Microwave Background Radiation. The Big Bang theory had proof.
4. A map of the CMBR created by Planck satellite in 2013 shows areas of massive volume and areas that are voids. At the beginning of the universe, the effects of gravity worked on the cluster of loose dust and cloud and brought them together to create clusters of galaxies, stars and planets. But the mass of the visible universe could not account for the expansion.
5. In the 70s, to reconcile the movements of the galaxies with gravity scientists proposed that dark matter was the missing ingredient. This mystery collection of sub-atomic particles comprises about 25% of the universe. In comparison, the visible universe of stuff makes up less than 5%.
6. The rest, 70%, is another mystery phenomenon – dark energy. This accounts for another unexpected quality of the universe discovered in 1998. Rather than slowing down following the Big Bang, the rate of expansion began increasing about 5billion years ago. But dark energy can only be inferred and cannot be detectable by laboratory experiment. Scientists are racing to find the answer to what makes up more than 90% of our universe.
Images from the Dark Universe © American Museum of Natural History