The nerds are physicists, thousands of them, all around the world. The wimps are dark matter particles. So far the wimps are winning, but that may change soon. Let me explain.
As galaxies rotate they are held together by gravity. The faster the spin, the more gravity is needed to hold a galaxy together. It’s a bit like a playground merry-go-round, the faster it spins the tighter you have to hold on to avoid falling off. And galaxies, it turns out, spin quickly.
But when astronomers look to the heavens and count all the stars in our galaxy and others, they simply don’t see enough ‘normal’ matter made out of atoms to hold galaxies together by the force of gravity. The galaxies should be flying apart.
Since they’re not, and thank God because I rather like the Milky Way, astrophysicists believe large amounts of hidden matter must exist. They call this dark matter. How much is there? Scientists believe there’s five times as much dark matter in universe as normal matter.
Physicists have been looking for dark matter for a while, but it appears to interact very weakly with normal matter, making it very hard to detect.
They also think the particles are relatively large, so they call them weakly interacting massive particles, or WIMPs. And you thought physics wasn’t fun?
Anyway, for the first time, physicists have powerful tools to find these particles. They’re using a $2 billion detector on the International Space Station. They’ve buried dozens of exotic detectors deep in old gold and copper mines on Earth. And they’re trying to create the stuff in the $10 billion Large Hadron Collider, the world’s most powerful particle accelerator.
I expect, in a few years, we’ll no longer be in the dark about dark matter.