Some of the biggest questions in the universe remain completely baffling to astronomers, a leading journal admitted.

Science Magazine (1 June 2012: Vol. 336 no. 6085 p. 1090, DOI: 10.1126/science.336.6085.1090-a) included a special feature this week: “Mysteries of Astronomy.”  Robert Coontz introduced the feature:

Endless mysteries lurk in the depths of space. To pare the list down to eight—now, there’s a challenge.…  From the outset, the team decided that true mysteries must have staying power (as opposed to mere “questions” that researchers might resolve in the near future). Some of the finalists are obvious shoo-ins; others have received less of the popular limelight. The final selection spans the entire history of the universe on scales ranging from our sun and its planetary system to the entire cosmos. Each mystery is sure to be solved largely through astronomical observations—if it is solved: In at least one case, experts aren’t sure that a seemingly simple question will ever be answered.

The top eight mysteries selected by Science are:

  1. What is dark energy?  Adrian Cho began, “The nature of the “dark energy” that is causing the expansion of the universe to accelerate is now perhaps the most profound mystery in cosmology and astrophysics. And it may remain forever so.”  (This is the “seemingly simple question” Coontz worried would never be answered.)
  2. How hot is dark matter?  Adrian Cho described the decades-old controversy about whether dark matter is hot (ordinary matter) or cold (unknown stuff).  They still don’t know what it is, but Cho believes “that could soon change.”
  3. Where are the missing baryons?  For laymen, baryons are atoms and ions, or “ordinary matter.”  But where the missing baryons are is no ordinary matter; astronomers can only account for less than half of what they expected to find….

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