The Sciences

Dark Worlds

Cosmic VarianceBy Mark TroddenOct 29, 2010 9:39 AM


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A couple of years or so ago, Jonathan Feng at UC Irvine, George Musser from Scientific American and I began discussions about an article for the magazine. This week, that article finally hit the newsstands in the November Issue. Back in 2008, Jonathan and I had for quite a while been interested in the connections between particle physics and cosmology, and in particular how experiments at current, upcoming (the LHC at that point) and future colliders could inform and be informed by modern cosmology. In fact, I'd written about these connections a number of times here on the blog, discussing, for example, the nature of WIMP dark matter, and the origin of the matter-antimatter asymmetry of the universe. And these were the starting point for our interactions with George about a SciAm article. The journey from these initial musings to a final article was a mostly enjoyable and interesting one, and for me it contrasted greatly with the vast majority of writing that I do, presenting my own current research for journals. In those efforts, the editorial input is generally small. One receives referee reports that are hopefully mostly positive, and can sometimes (although rarely, to be honest) contain excellent suggestions that improve the final version of the paper. The editorial role is mostly in the selection of referees by a scientist serving on the editorial board, and in general grammatical editing of the paper and verification of references as it nears the publication date. But writing for a magazine is a different experience. From the beginning it was very much a collaborative effort, with Jonathan and I honing our ideas about what should appear in the article, and George pushing some ideas and downplaying others, to fit with his experience of the kind of article that most readers want. We were all searching for the right mix of background material, new directions in the field, and connections to work that Jonathan and I had been directly involved in, and so could comment on from direct experience. Although we didn't always agree, it was definitely a constructive process, and the final content was a consensus in the best sense of the word, with what to emphasize and what couldn't make it into the article for space reasons (which are very tight) the outcome of lengthy, but useful negotiations between us and George. That it took a couple of years from inception to publication is partly a reflection of the natural time it takes for a lot of back and forth between editor and authors who have busy day jobs, and partly because in the middle I moved institutions, putting me out of action for a while. What we ended up focusing on is the intriguing possibility that the dark sector of cosmology might exhibit a considerably richer structure than our usual simple descriptions of a plain WIMP candidate for dark matter, and a cosmological constant, or sequestered dark energy component driving cosmic acceleration. Rather, it is possible that the dark sector contains it's own set of new particles and forces, and that our detections, gravitationally based so far, have not yet been able to probe this underlying structure. We wrote about interesting possibilities for dark matter, some of which are related to work Jonathan has done, for much of the article, and at the end turned to the possibility of interactions with dark energy, which I've worked on and have occasionally written about here. As we concluded the article:

The only matter we know anything about, visible matter, comprises a rich spectrum of particles with multiple interactions determined by beautiful underlying symmetry principles. Nothing suggests that dark matter and dark energy should be any different. We may not encounter dark stars, planets and people, but just as we could hardly imagine the solar system without Neptune, Pluto and the swarm of objects that lie even farther out, one day we might not be able to conceive of a universe without an intricate and fascinating dark world.

The article isn't perfect, of course. For example, there is a heading for one of the figures that reads "Experiments that claim to have detected dark matter". We didn't write that, but we should have caught it in proofs. It is wrong, of course, and should read something like "Experiments that are searching for dark matter". Also, after being so close to the material for a while, there are some ambiguities that you don't notice unless someone else reads them a different way and lets you know. But in all, I think Jonathan and I are pretty happy with the final article. For me, it was an enjoyable experience, with several highlights. First and foremost, we had an engaged and sympathetic editor who understood both the science and the target audience. Thanks George! Second, it is wonderful fun to receive some actual draft page proofs, after months of exchanging a visually unappealing text file, and to see the art work that has been designed to accompany the article. We had some very rough ideas regarding one or two of the figures, but most of the visual parts of the article were created with no initial input from us. We helped tweak at the end, and certainly helped with text in the figures, but the gorgeous graphics were essentially all the magazine's work. And finally, George never even hinted to us, but when we received copies of the actual magazine a few days before it appeared, we were shocked and delighted to see that our article was the cover article. I can't tell you how thrilled my mother will be! Just like the newsstand version, the online version of the article costs money of course. But if you do read it, I hope you enjoy it.

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