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Dark Matters and the Periodic Table

The Antennae Galaxies

Matter, such as that found in the periodic table and in galaxies, makes up only five percent of the universe's mass. Nasa.

Late in the 19th century, Dmitri Mendeleev embarked on a most modest journey to create a table of all that was known, and yet to be known, of elemental matters.  Despite the real holes in his table and his theory, Mendeleev pushed on; sure enough, elements and properties he predicted were found and fitted to his puzzle.

Today, most chemistry students accept the periodic table’s universality, extending from the air molecules we breathe to the galaxies of stars in the sky. But virtually no chemistry student (or any student for that matter) knows the big secret about the periodic table: a whole lot is still missing.  Scientists today believe that the elements in the periodic table make up only about 5% of all the mass in the entire Universe. That’s less than you give the government in sales tax each time you buy something!

So what’s missing? Well, fittingly, this missing stuff is generally referred to as dark matter, though it is as yet unseen. Most scientists think dark matter consists of undiscovered particles, something uncapturable by the current periodic table.

This dark matter should not be taken so darkly. Just as with Mendeleev’s early table, the evidence is suggestive, and, like that table, opens up exciting possibilities for new particles, theories and experiments.

In speaking about the periodic table, British scientist and writer C. P. Snow probably said it best: “For the first time I saw a medley of haphazard facts fall into line and order. All the jumbles and recipes and hotchpotch of the inorganic chemistry of my boyhood seemed to fit themselves into the scheme before my eyes — as though one were standing beside a jungle and it suddenly transformed itself into a Dutch garden.”

Maybe one day soon we’ll regain that clarity.

Posted In: History

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