Astronomy Picture of the Day

Discover the cosmos! Each day a different image or photograph of our fascinating universe is featured, along with a brief explanation written by a professional astronomer.

2001 December 31
See Explanation.  Clicking on the picture will download
 the highest resolution version available.

A Year of Dark Cosmology
Credit: W. M. Keck Observatory, Mauna Kea Observatory

Explanation: We live in the exciting time when humanity discovers the nature of our entire universe. During this year, in particular, however, the quest for cosmological understanding appears to have astronomers groping in the dark. Dark matter and dark energy are becoming accepted invisible components of our universe, much like oxygen and nitrogen have become established invisible components of Earth-bound air. In comprehending the nature and origin of the formerly invisible, however, we are only just exiting the cosmological dark age. Relatively unexplored concepts such as higher spatial dimensions, string theories of fundamental particles, quintessence, and new forms of inflation all vie for cornerstone roles in a more complete theory. As understanding invisible air has led to such useful inventions as the airplane and the oxygen mask, perhaps understanding dark matter and dark energy can lead to even more spectacular and useful inventions. Pictured above, three of the largest optical telescopes (Keck I, Keck II, and Subaru) prepare to peer into the dark and distant universe.

Tomorrow's picture: The Secret of the Black Aurora

< | Archive | Index | Search | Calendar | Glossary | Education | About APOD | >

Authors & editors: Robert Nemiroff (MTU) & Jerry Bonnell (USRA)
NASA Technical Rep.: Jay Norris. Specific rights apply.
A service of: LHEA at NASA/ GSFC
& Michigan Tech. U.