A team of scientists think they may have found the source of the eerily named entity of “dark energy” – and it’s black holes.
For context, black holes are the very large objects at the centre of many galaxies, which form in the crushing force of a collapsing star.
If the scientists are correct – and black hole cores are made of “dark energy” – they could be responsible for expanding the universe.
But what’s dark energy (aside from the vibes your ex gives off)? Well, it’s still quiet mysterious.
The concept first emerge in the late 1990s when researchers found the growth of the universe was accelerating, by taking measurements of distant stars.
But, this created a conundrum, because gravity is meant to slow expansion – so why was it only speeding up?
Dark energy was the term coined by researchers for this gap in the scientists’ knowledge about just what appeared to be counteracting gravity and speeding up the expansion of the cosmos.
Previously, dark energy was thought to exist across spacetime, but now this theory suggests it is created and just stays inside black holes.
Astronomer at the University of Hawaii Duncan Farrah said: “We propose that black holes are the source for dark energy. This dark energy is produced when normal matter is compressed during the death and collapse of large stars.”
So how did they come up with this theory?
As the international team explained in both The Astrophysical Journal and The Astrophysical Journal Letters, they looked at black holes in both young galaxies (stars are still developing) and dormant galaxies (where there are no more new stars being born).
As black holes grow by absorbing the stars nearby, it makes sense for them to flourish in young galaxies. But, researchers found that they were growing in dormant galaxies too – in fact, they were seven to 20 times larger than expected.
So scientists have theorised that black holes might grow when the universe grows.
And, they suggested that this would work if the black holes have dark energy at their core based on their tangible observations of the universe.
Study co-author Dr Chris Pearson from STFC RAL Space said: “If the theory holds, then this is going to revolutionise the whole of cosmology because at last we’ve got a solution for the origin of dark energy that’s been perplexing cosmologists and theoretical physicists for more than 20 years.”
Another co-author Dr Dave Clements from the department of physics at Imperial said: “This is a really surprising result.
“We started off looking at how black holes grow over time, and may have found the answer to one of the biggest problems in cosmology.”
But, Farrah did note: “We certainly haven’t proved anything here. The evidence makes this idea worthy of scrutiny and further test, but it will take a lot more work to confirm or refute it.”
Indeed, not everyone is convinced, with other scientists asking how black holes can pull everything nearby toward them while also expand the universe, pushing it away.
According to The Guardian, professor of physics at the Niels Bohr Institute in Copenhagen, Vitor Cardoso, pointed out: “There are more likely more mundane explanations.”
He said “fundamental principles” do not support the findings, and that the study should just conclude that black holes evolve differently today compared to billions of years ago.
“It’s much, much too early to think that black holes are in any way related to dark energy,” he claimed.