Star News From A Galaxy Far, Far Away . . .

Posted: January 08, 1993

The headlines looked like something the principal characters in an old science-fiction movie might be confronted with in an early scene:

"Astronomers discover mysterious 'dark matter,' " read The Inquirer's front page on Tuesday. "X-ray data suggest mass of the universe may halt expansion," the New York Times reported. The Washington Post said, ''Satellite finds dark matter that may bind the universe."

(To one friend, the Post headline seemed to go too far toward combining astrophysics and cooking advice. "It sounds like you wouldn't want to add too much of this stuff," she said, "or the universe might get too chewy.")

In any event, the discovery is one of those wonderful stories that seem to mean so much - yet so little. All astronomers really know about this "dark matter" is that it has sufficient gravitational force to hold together a huge and distant cloud of intergalactic gas that would otherwise have dispersed. Everything else about it is pretty much anyone's guess.

To be sure, the presence of this stuff may eventually cause the universe to collapse, creating a "Cosmic Crunch" to end things, much as the Big Bang kicked them off. But this occasion is so many billions of years in the future that there's no need to run out and start hoarding canned goods yet.

The references to this invisible material that gives off no known radiation as "dark matter" gives the discovery a somewhat ominous tone, but there's no need for such a dim view. Our own suggestion regarding this mysterious phenomonon is that scientists may have found The Force, as that term was outlined to Luke Skywalker by Obi Wan Kenobi in Star Wars.

"The Force is what gives the Jedi his power," Obi Wan explained. "It's an energy field created by all living things. It surrounds us, and penetrates us. It holds the galaxies together."

May The Force be with us.

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