Monday, February 18, 2013

On Background: Dark Energy

In honor of me finishing the rough draft of Eagle (cause I totally did!) I decided to take a stab at writing a bit about the background of the Jacob Hull universe. Mostly I'm a bit burnt out and unwilling to start on Airships before next week, so here goes.

One of the cool things about science is that the more we've discovered, the more we realize how little clue we have about how our universe works. Dark energy, along with dark matter, is one of those things that currently proves that maxim to its fullest.

There are a variety of explanations about dark energy, but what it boils down to (to my, non-expert understanding) is a collective "Huh?" on the part of modern astronomers. You see, the Big Bang theory (not that one) has managed to explain quite a lot about how the universe was formed. We've discovered background radiation from that first initial explosion, and all the galaxies in the universe are speeding away from each other, just as that theory would predict. There's just one problem.

They are all speeding up.

Why is that a problem, you ask? Well, according to a little thing we call gravity, we know that all matter is drawn toward other matter at a certain rate. That rate is lessened by distance and depends on the mass of the objects involved, but the gist of it is that the mass in the universe should be attracting the rest of the mass in the universe--especially those big globs of stars and planets we call galaxies. The initial assumption was that--due to gravitational pull--all those galaxies would eventually slow down and reverse course, finally merging together in a big condensed clump for another Big Bang of some sort. That is not what is happening at all.

They figured that out by looking at the light coming in from those galaxies, and measuring what kind of light it was. Light coming from an object headed toward you has blue shift, thanks to the Doppler effect. Light coming from an object headed away has redshift, thanks to that same effect. People have measured the light from the various galaxies and have found that they have redshifts--and that the shift is increasing. Basically, they did to galaxies what traffic cops do to your car and found that not only were they speeding, they were freaking flooring it.

Now, the concept they are using to explain the phenomena is called dark energy. Basically, from what I can understand of the subject (which I admit is limited) is that they think it is either the energy cost that is paid by the universe's expansion to have more empty space, or that there must be a kind of energy called a quintessence field that provides the gravitic acceleration. There is apparently a high-level debate on what those theories imply, and we aren't anywhere close to figuring out which one is correct, but they have concluded that dark energy makes up about seventy-three percent of the energy and mass in the universe. That's right, we have no idea about the nature of about three quarters of existence.

So how does this relate to Jacob Hull? When I was writing Wolfhound, I was reading about dark energy and came across a description of it as a sort of 'negative pressure' in the universe. With the weird way that my mind works, I connected negative pressure with the air pressure systems on Earth which create winds. From there I jumped to the idea of a similar sort of wind system occuring between concentrations of high and low 'negative pressure' in space, which people could sail along using sails meant to catch the energy provided by those dark energy currents. From there I went to the Capistans capturing that energy like specialized windmills, and missiles and torpedoes using those same currents to accelerate as well.

Now I'm sure there are at least a couple of physicists who are crying out in horror at what I've just done to the whole concept of dark energy. I'm sure there are already plenty of theorems and explanations to describe why the direction I went with here is absurd and illogical. I'm fine with that; Wolfhound was never meant to be a science textbook after all, and I readily admit that it was not meant to be hard sci fi either. Still, there was the thought process behind the background, for those who are interested. Hope to be a bit more regular in posting here in the future. See you around!