An experiment was undertaken to capture a dark energy particle known as a chameleon.
Experiments get conducted time after time. But such an experiment as Holger Muller and his fellow researchers carried out at UC Berkley are seldom seen. They plan to find chameleons which are postulated particles.
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It is said that dark energy is locked up somewhere deep within these particles. The search for these hypothetical teensy weensy particles has taken on a feverish pitch. It’s a case of make-or-break.
The experiments performed may prove once and for all that these particles do in fact exist. Or they will turn out to have been a fancy of the overactive scientific imagination.
Dark energy was discovered around the turn of the millennium. The universe seemed to be getting wider and wider at a fast pace. The invisible forces that were causing this expansion remained a mystery.
Yet it was surmised that dark energy comprised 68% of the energy in the universe. The discovery earned one of the scientists a Nobel Prize as well. Several UC Berkeley scientists were members of the two teams that made that Nobel Prize-winning discovery, and physicist Saul Perlmutter shared the prize.
Some theoreticians have said that dark energy might actually be intertwined. That is with the structure of the universe.
Even a genius of the caliber of Einstein came close to avowing this discovery. But later on he recanted (something which he regretted in the later years of his life). Others have said that the energy is stored in particles.
These include various spin-offs of the Higgs Boson. More than a decade ago, a physicist proposed the hypothesis. This was that chameleons (or dark energy particles) were hiding from us.
These clever particles change their structural-functional features in synch with the surrounding conditions. In the vacuum of space, chameleons must be having very little mass. And they must be exercising force over lengthy distances. However, in a lab setting just the opposite would be the case.
“The chameleon field is light in empty space but as soon as it enters an object it becomes very heavy and so couples only to the outermost layer of a big object, and not to the internal parts,” said Müller, who is also a faculty scientist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. “It would pull only on the outermost nanometer.”
At the level of quantum physics, matter and energy both behave in strange ways. It is a weird science alright. Every particle acts differently depending upon whether it is being observed or not.
Its behavior changes in accordance with the environment. The chameleon particles are especially interesting. This is since the research taking place regarding them is at the leading edge. The detection of chameleons may a long way off.
“In the worst case, we will learn more of what dark energy is not. Hopefully, that gives us a better idea of what it might be,” Müller said. “One day, someone will be lucky and find it.”
But for now the scientists have come way closer to finding their real nature. Luck may be on the physicists’ side. Chameleons and the dark energy they trap inside their cores may become common knowledge. That is in the near future.
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The results of this experiment reported in this week’s issue of Science.