Vol. 3, Issue 4, February 8, 2005
Chunk of Universe's Missing Matter Found in Skies over Los Angeles
In recent years, astronomers have found themselves faced with a nagging inventory problem. Received wisdom holds that dark matter and dark energy make up 95 percent of the universe, and ordinary matter makes up the remainder. The problem is, the luminous matter detected with the aid of optical telescopes has amounted to a mere 10 percent of the expected ordinary matter, and the matter inferred by other means bring that total to only 50 percent.
"In retrospect, the problem was that we were looking to the ends of the universe but not close to home," said J. Michael Shull of the University of Chicago. "It was a lucky coincidence when that graduate student accidentally hit a button and pointed the Chandra X-ray Observatory at California."
As it turns out, this accident led to scientists reporting having identified the probable source of the rest of this missing matter. Data from the Chandra X-ray Observatory, it appears, indicate that the lost matter may be swimming in diffuse rivers of gas over the Los Angeles basin.
"I mean, the answer was right in front of us," said Shull. "The very term 'dark matter' is highly suggestive of the seamy underbelly of society, a phenomenon that defies the known laws of physics and good taste. That's Hollywood right there."
In fact, scientists have for years puzzled over the noxious clouds hovering over the greater Los Angeles area, which - according to conventional physics - should not be able to remain aloft, but should instead crash down upon the ground in a cataclysmic display of violence and flatten the city.
"The fact that this has not happened is, in fact, a major reason why there are so many atheists in California," said science advisor Kent Cohen. "Surely, if there were a God, he would smite this den of iniquity. But no one really looked into the pollution beyond that." Cohen noted that an astronomer would probably have put two and two together before now, except that astronomers are "almost never" invited to movie premieres or the right sort of party in Los Angeles.
"I am proud to learn that the skies over Los Angeles hold the solution to one of the greatest cosmic mysteries known to man," said Los Angeles mayor James Hahn. "It is my hope that this discovery will add to our already substantial tourist trade, and that we can find a way to charge admission to gaze upon the dark matter suffusing the heavens." Nine companies have already announced plans to sell bottles of "genuine Dark Matter gas" for prices ranging from $5 to $15.
Excited by the notion of solving cosmic mysteries at home, NASA has announced plans to redirect several key missions to focus on the Earth.
"We were planning to send another lander to Mars in 2009, but I think we'll send it to Newark instead," said NASA science chief Ed Weiler. "Lord knows what we'll find there."