The structure, texture, form, composition and processes in the universe are extremely complex, with some of them yet unknown to the human mind. Ever since we mysteriously landed on this planet, we have been interested in finding the exact secrets which could give some meaning and purpose to life. Some of us have chosen a spiritual path, while others need to cling to palpable arguments and reconstruct the meaning and roots of life forms. This is what science does and as it evolves, so do the paths of our understanding.
Apart from the atoms that make up our bodies and all the objects we see, touch and feel in everyday life, the universe also contains something known as dark matter and dark energy. Dark energy, as scientists suggest, causes galaxies to accelerate away from one another and shapes the majority of the universe’s energy and mass.
Dark energy is sneaky and hides in our mist in the form of (by now) hypothetical particles called “chameleons”. A team of researchers has embarked on a mission to reveal the exact consistency, shape and structure of chameleon particles.
The concept of dark energy was discovered back in 1998 and ever since, scientists have been making up theories to explain it. One that seems to be closest to a palpable reality is that dark energy produces a special force that can be measured only where space has a very low density, like the regions between the galaxies.
The recent results of an experiment revealed this week narrows the path of discovery for chameleons many times, compared to previous tests. Scientists hope that the next experiment will either reveal chameleons or similar ultralight particles as the real deal of dark energy or on the contrary, prove that this dark energy was only a construct of our minds. The research lays focus on the search for specific types of dark energy, the “chameleon fields”, which exhibit a force whose strength depends on the density of their surrounding environment. This force would be a living example of the “fifth force”, another force beyond the already known forces of gravity.
Holger Müller, a well-known scientist and his team, have built one of the most sensitive detectors of force, in order to use them in their quest for slight gravitational anomalies that would outline a problem with Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity. The team has measured the attraction caused by the chameleon field between an atom and a larger mass, instead of the attraction between two large masses, which would suppress the chameleon field until it becomes practically undetectable.
To come up with some relevant findings, the team has dropped cesium atoms above an inch-diameter aluminum sphere and used sensitive lasers to measure the forces on the atoms in the moment of their free fall. As the experiment went to the next phase, they detected no force other than Earth’s gravity, which rules out the chameleon-induced forces a million times weaker than gravity. As scientists have concluded, this eliminates a range of possible energies for the particle.
“The team has ruled out chameleons that interact with normal matter more strongly than gravity, but they are now pushing his experiment into areas where chameleons interact on the same scale as gravity, where they are more likely to exist”.
The upcoming experiments will narrow the search for other imagined dark energy fields, such as symmetrons and forms of modified gravity, such as so called f(R) gravity. Dark energy chameleons have their special, hidden places but this is no more than a challenge for scientists who will discover their mysteries in the near future. Everything is only a matter of time.
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