Dark Worlds: A Journey to a Universe of Unseen Matter

Jonathan Feng and Mark Trodden in Scientific American:

ScreenHunter_03 Nov. 04 16.17 On September 23, 1846, Johann Gottfried Galle, director of the Berlin Observatory, received a letter that would change the course of astronomical history. It came from a Frenchman, Urbain Le Verrier, who had been studying the motion of Uranus and concluded that its path could not be explained by the known gravitational forces acting on it. Le Verrier suggested the existence of a hitherto unobserved object whose gravitational pull was perturbing Uranus’s orbit in precisely the way required to account for the anomalous observations. Following Le Verrier’s directions, Galle went to his telescope that night and discovered the planet Neptune.

A similar drama—in which astronomers observe anomalous cosmic motions, deduce the presence of new matter and go out to hunt for it—is playing out again today in modern cosmology. In the role of Uranus, we see stars and galaxies moving in ways they should not; in the role of Neptune, we deduce the existence of hitherto unobserved substances, provisionally called dark matter and dark energy.

More here.