Can you believe that I had a fight today with someone who’s been dead for over 350 years, and I’m losing? — Ethan, yesterday
Of course you can believe it, when the man I’m fighting with is Johannes Kepler. I don’t get a chance to tell you about my research very often, mostly because it’s still a work in progress. But my latest paper was just submitted and is now out of the way, and so I’d like to tell you what I’m working on at the moment.
Well, there we are in the galaxy. We look up at the night sky, and we see our planets as well as all the stars that surround us. But you know what we don’t see? Dark Matter. We know it’s there, in a giant halo around our galaxy, the same way we find evidence for it in all galaxies. So I can pretty easily figure out how much dark matter is in the galaxy where our solar system is:
My problem is, if I just did that calculation, I’d get the wrong answer! Why? Because we’re not just lazing around in our galaxy; our Sun, with our four inner, rocky planets and our four gas giant outer planets have been zipping around through the galaxy for over four billion years. In that time, they’ve had plenty of opportunity to scoop up dark matter, like a vacuum cleaner. And that’s why I’m having a fight with this guy:
Turns out this problem of figuring out how much dark matter is in our Solar System now is actually pretty hard. But if I can figure out how the dark matter is moving, how the solar system is moving, and how gravity works to capture some of that dark matter, I win. How? Because I’ll be able to predict how much dark matter we should have surrounding our Sun, and I can compare it with observations to see if it matches!
But first, I have to figure out a way to beat this Kepler guy. My strategy?
Well, that’s not going to work. I’ll have to buckle down and solve it with a combination of physics and astronomy, using calculations and writing simulations. But that’s what I’m working on, and if I can solve this, then for the very first time, we’ll know how much dark matter we have in our own solar system! And that’s pretty damned cool!