Q: What is dark energy? A: It’s when your kids defy you after sunset, make noise, and refuse to go to bed.
Not really, but trying to understand dark energy seems as much fun as trying to corral sugar-high, rowdy kids at 10 PM. So why is dark energy such a big deal? Scientists tell us that dark energy (also called space energy density) comprises about 72 percent of the universe, but you can’t see the stuff. This mysterious component repels space away from itself, thereby moving the objects in space away from each other. It’s kind of like pushing together a spring with two small objects taped to the ends. When you let go of the spring, the objects move away from each other (only they keep moving, and at an accelerating rate). Researchers caution that there’s much yet to learn about dark energy. Like gravity, though, you better respect what you can’t see or you might get hurt. The “hurt” is a long-term process, because you get stretched into oblivion. In other words, dark energy is the self-stretching property of the universe’s space fabric. RTB astronomers tell me this phenomenon is like a balloon being stretched out as you blow it up. If you were to put a few ink spots on the balloon prior to blowing it up, those dots would represent the “ordinary” matter of the universe. That includes frazzled parents, unruly kids, and the toys you just tripped over—anything made up of protons and neutrons (4.5 percent of the universe). Those dots continue to expand as the balloon inflates and, since we’re on the dots, we expand too. At least two things about dark energy make it worthy of a layperson’s attention: (1) astronomers have discovered that this mysterious matter accelerates the universe’s expansion rate (think of galaxies moving farther away from each other), and (2) humans live at a time when the expansion rate allows us to observe the universe. This is a bad news/good news scenario, depending on your worldview. From a naturalistic perspective humans get to live in, study, and appreciate the universe for a while, but ultimately the universe and all life will cease to exist. No consciousness, no memories, no hope. From a Christian perspective, scientific confirmation of dark energy validates the Bible: “I am the LORD, who has made all things, who alone stretched out the heavens” (Isaiah 44:24). Humans live at a time when we can observe the Creator’s handiwork and offer him praise, all the while anticipating—with great hope—the creation to come as promised in the Scriptures. I have to admit, though, that for me the dark energy I get excited about most comes in the form of a chocolate bar after finally forcing the kids to bed so I can log on to check e-mail.