TIME movies

What Interstellar Got Right and Wrong About Science

INTERSTELLAR
Matthew McConaughey in 'Interstellar' Warner Brothers—Melinda Sue Gordon

Even a movie largely based on real science is bound to bend the rules a bit

If you’re one of the estimated 3 gajillion people who have seen or will see Chris Nolan’s blockbuster movie Interstellar, one thing is already clear to you: this is not a documentary. That means it’s fiction, specifically science fiction, which is how you get the sci and the fi in the sci-fi pairing. So if you go into the movie looking for a lot of scientific ‘gotcha’ moments, let’s stipulate up front that you’re going to find some.

That said, part of Interstellar’s considerable appeal is that it does go heavy on the science part of things. Nolan enlisted Caltech cosmologist Kip Thorne as the film’s technical adviser, and Thorne kept a whip hand on the production, ensuring that the storyline hewed as closely as possible to the head-crackingly complex physics that govern the universe.

So where did Interstellar play it absolutely straight and where did it take the occasional narrative liberty? Here are a few of the key plot points and the verdict from the scientists (warning, there may be spoilers ahead):

1. A worm hole could open in space, providing a short cut from one side of the universe to the other. Verdict: Mostly true

Worm holes are a pretty well-accepted part of modern cosmology and it’s Thorne’s theorems that have helped make them that way. The idea is that if you think of space-time less as a void than as a sort of fabric—which it is—it could, under the right circumstances fold over on itself. Punching the necessary holes in that fabric so that you could make your universe-transiting trip would be a bit more difficult. That would require what’s known as negative energy—an energetic state less than zero—to create the portal and keep it open, says Princeton cosmologist J. Richard Gott. There have been attempts to create such conditions in the lab, which is a long way from a real wormhole but at least helps prove the theory.

One bit of license the Interstellar story did take concerns how the wormhole came to be. It takes a massive object to generate a gravity field sufficient to fold space-time in half, and the one in the movie would have to be the equivalent of 100 million of our suns, says Gott. Depending on where in the universe you placed an object with that kind of mass, it could make a real mess of the surrounding worlds—but it doesn’t in the movie.

2. Getting too close to the gravity well of a massive object like a black hole causes time to move more slowly for you than it would for people on Earth. Verdict: True

For this one, stay with space-time as a fabric—a stretched one, like a trampoline. Now place a 500-lb. cannon ball on it. That’s your black hole with its massive gravity field. The vertical threads in the weave of the fabric are space, the horizontal ones are time, and the cannon ball can’t distort one without distorting the other, too. That means that everything—including how soon your next birthday comes—will be stretched out. Really, it’s as simple as that—unless you want to spend some time with the equations that prove the point, which, trust us, you don’t.

3. It would be possible to communicate to Earth from within a black hole. Verdict: Maybe

The accepted truth about a black hole is that its gravitational grip is so powerful that not even light can escape—which is how it got its name. But even physics may have loopholes, and one of them is something known as Hawking radiation, discovered by, well, guess who. When a particle falls into a black hole, the fact that it’s falling creates another form of negative energy. But nature hates when its books are unbalanced—a negative without a corresponding positive is like a debit without a credit. So the black hole emits a particle to keep everything revenue- neutral. Zillions of those particles create a form of outflowing energy—and energy can be encoded to carry information, which is how all forms of wireless communication work. That’s hardly the same as being able to radio down to Houston from within a black hole’s maw, but it takes you a big step closer.

4. It would be possible to survive the leap into the black hole from which you hope to do your communicating in the first place. Verdict: False—except…

Cosmologists vie for the best term to describe what would happen to you if you crossed over a black hole’s so-called event horizon, or its light-gobbling threshold. The winner, in a linguistic landslide: spaghettification—which does not sound good. But that nasty end may not happen immediately. “Most people would agree that a person who jumps into a black hole is doomed,” says Columbia University cosmologist and best-selling author Brian Greene, “but if the black hole is big enough, you wouldn’t get spaghettified right away.” That’s small comfort, but for a good screenwriter, it’s all the wiggle room you need.

5. And finally: Anne Hathaway could move through time and space and help save all of humanity and her hair would still look fabulous. Verdict: Who cares? We wouldn’t have it any other way.

Read next: Watch an Exclusive Interstellar Clip With Matthew McConaughey

TIME movies

How Stephen Hawking Went Hollywood

A theory of love: Eddie Redmayne, as a young Hawking, meets the future Mrs. Hawking
A theory of love: Eddie Redmayne, as a young Hawking, meets the future Mrs. Hawking

James Marsh, director of the poignant Hawking biopic The Theory of Everything, talks about making a movie with—and about—a living legend

It’s a very good thing director James Marsh isn’t a defeatist. If he were, he would curse the Hollywood calendar that has his compelling biopic of Stephen Hawking, The Theory of Everything, opening in the same week as Christopher Nolan’s blockbuster Interstellar. Ordinarily, an arena-scale spectacle like Interstellar and a bit of cinematic chamber music like Theory wouldn’t have a lot to fear from each other, since their audiences would be decidedly different. But that’s not so this time.

Both movies, in their own ways, wrestle with the same head-spinning questions: the mysteries of the universe and the physics of, well, pretty much everything there is. And both, in their own ways, succeed splendidly. Nolan had the far heavier lift when it came to the sheer scale of the production he was undertaking. But Marsh had the tougher go when it came to making sure his audiences sat still for the tale he wanted to tell, since he didn’t have eye-popping special effects and a thumping score to make the science go down easier. But he plays to that minimalism as a strength, keeping things small, intimate and sometimes brilliantly metaphorical.

On occasion, the facts of Hawking’s own life supplied those metaphors. Even as the great physicist was descending into the black hole of an illness that would render him both immobile and mute, he discovered the phenomenon now known as Hawking radiation, a form of energy that allows information to escape from the gravitational grip of a black hole—a grip so great that it swallows even light. Hawking has spent most of his life finding his own way to get information and ideas out to the world.

And when did the young Hawking have the flash of insight that the eponymous radiation exists? While struggling to free himself from a tangled pajama top that his weakened muscles could no longer negotiate. When life throws a good director a fat, over-the-plate pitch like that, the good director hits it out of the park—and Marsh excels in that moment, as he does with the film as a whole.

Taking a break from both promoting Theory and directing a new project for HBO, Marsh spoke to TIME about getting to know Hawking, working to understand his physics, and turning what could have been a mawkish tale of sickness and survival into a movie that is equal parts drama, wit, love story and ingenious science lesson.

How difficult was it to weave hard cosmological science into a personal story about a man, his marriage and his illness?

I think of myself as a member of the general audience who comes to the movie not overly familiar with cosmology. I pitched the science at a level that I think I would understand, so audiences will too. The movie is really a story of the heart, about two people [Hawking and his wife Jane], and we give them equal screen time. There was a very interesting tension between Hawking’s scientific career on the one hand and his marriage and health on the other. They move in opposite directions, with one soaring as the other is declining. A drama wouldn’t ordinarily be the best way of exploring complex ideas like Hawking radiation, but that balance, that tension made it possible.

Cosmology is that rare science that almost no one understands but almost everyone finds fascinating. Why do you think that’s so?

These are the biggest questions imaginable. Stephen’s work is dealing with the nature of time and the boundaries of the universe. He approaches them through the lens of physics, but what he’s engaging with are the deepest mysteries we can contemplate.

How involved was Hawking in the production?

[Screenwriter] Anthony McCarten spent many years working on a screenplay and talking to Jane Hawking, whose memoir is the source of the movie. We then went to Stephen and he read the script. He wasn’t wildly enthusiastic with the idea but he agreed to cooperate. He offered us some items from his personal collection, including the medal that [his character is seen] wearing at the end of the movie. At each step of the production we involved him, consulted with him. We had a physicist—a former student of his—on the set at all times to make sure all of the equations looked right.

Did Hawking himself ever visit?

During the May Ball shoot [a scene at an outdoor dance], he came to the set with his handlers and other assistants. He was very impressed by the scale of everything, but it raised the stakes a lot when he was there, especially because it was on the same night Jane showed up. Earlier, Jane took us to the house where they lived when they were first married. She showed us the spot where Stephen was saying “I have an idea” when he was struggling with his pajamas and came up with Hawking radiation. Scientists are like filmmakers: they have the oddest ideas at the oddest times.

Did you give Hawking any kind of final approval of the film before it was released?

When it was cut but not finalized, we took the film and showed it to him as a mark of respect. Had he not liked it we would have failed, so that was very nerve-wracking. It seemed to us that he had an emotional reaction while he was watching the movie. His response afterwards was very generous. He said the movie felt ‘broadly true,’ and then he sent the company an e-mail saying that when he watched Eddie [Redmayne, who plays Hawking] perform, it was like watching himself. He also offered us the use of the real electronic voice he uses to communicate to replace the one we were using. It has a weird emotional spectrum and it made the movie better. It felt like an endorsement.

TIME Physics

Why LED Lights Won the Nobel Prize

Chances are you're using an LED right now

You might have heard that researchers, two Japanese and one American, recently won the Nobel Prize for Physics for inventing blue light-emitting diodes (LEDs), but you might not know what LEDs are and why they’re important. With energy-saving light bulbs becoming more commonplace and smartphone use as widespread as ever, there might be more LEDs in your life than you realize.

TIME Physics

This Discovery Brings Us One Step Closer to Harry Potter’s Invisibility Cloak

Handout photo of cloaking device using four lenses developed by University of Rochester physics professor Howell and graduate student Choi is demonstrated in Rochester
A cloaking device using four lenses developed by University of Rochester physics professor John Howell and graduate student Joseph Choi is demonstrated in Rochester, New York on Sept. 11, 2014. Reuters

It's like a very small invisibility cloak made of glass

Researchers at the University of Rochester seem to be taking the words of science fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke’s to heart: “any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”

Inspired in part by the famous Invisibility Cloak from Harry Potter, scientists at Rochester have discovered new ways to use complex lenses to hide objects from view. While previous cloaking devices distort the background and make it apparent that an object is being cloaked, the four lenses used at Rochester keep an object hidden as the viewer moves up to several degrees away.

“This is the first device that we know of that can do three-dimensional, continuously multidirectional cloaking, which works for transmitting rays in the visible spectrum,” said Joseph Choi, a PhD student at Rochester’s Institute of Optics who is working with physics professor John Howell at the university.

While the lenses do truly disguise the image of an object, scientists aren’t claiming a suit-sized version of the lens will work, much less help its wearers sneak past Death Eaters or into a Room of Requirement.

But there are practical uses for the technology: Howell says that the lenses could help a surgeon “look through his hands to what he is actually operating on,” and the lenses could be applied to a truck to allow drivers to see through blind spots on their vehicles.

Here’s a video that shows in more detail how the lenses work:

 

TIME Books

See an Exclusive ‘Self-Portrait’ From the Creator of XKCD

XKCD Creator Randall Munroe
Munroe has fun with the formulas for angular momentum of a spinning object (top) and centripetal force (bottom). Randall Munroe for TIME

The webcomic's science series, What If?, is now a book

For the past two years, xkcd creator Randall Munroe has been answering fantastical science questions for his popular webcomic’s sister site, What If?. In the new issue of TIME, Munroe talks about turning the project into a book (What If?: Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions, hitting shelves Sept. 2) and how he conducts his investigations into topics like jetpacks and dinosaur nutrition.

“I try to be entertaining in the way I share them, but my real motivation with each question is that I want to know the answer,” Munroe says. “Once a question gets into my head, it will keep bugging me until I figure out the answer, whether I’m writing an article about it or not.”

Though Munroe says he uses stick-figures for xkcd and What If? because he’s “not very good at drawing,” we asked him to draw a self-portrait anyway — at least, as much of a self-portrait as you can get using only stick-figures. In the exclusive illustration above, also on newsstands now, Munroe has fun with the formulas for angular momentum of a spinning object (top) and centripetal force (bottom).

TIME Physics

Supersonic Submarines Just Took One Step Closer to Reality

That would make San Francisco to Shanghai in two hours a possibility

Chinese scientists say there could one day be a high-tech submarine that crosses the Pacific Ocean in less time than it takes to watch a movie, the South China Morning Post reports.

Researchers at the Harbin Institute of Technology, in northeast China, have made dramatic improvements to a Soviet-era military technology called supercavitation that allows submersibles to travel at high speeds, the Post says.

Supercavitation envelops a submerged vessel inside an air bubble to minimize friction. It enabled the Russian Shakval torpedo to reach speeds of 230 m.p.h. — but theoretically, a supercavitated vessel, given sufficient power at launch, could reach the speed of sound (some 3,603 m.p.h.). That would mean crossing the 6,000-odd miles from San Francisco to Shanghai in just two hours.

One of the problems of supercavitation has been how to steer a vessel at such speeds. The Harbin scientists say they could have the answer.

According to the Post, they’ve developed a way of allowing a supercavitated vessel to shower itself with liquid while traveling inside its own air bubble. The liquid creates a membrane on the surface of the vessel, and by manipulating this membrane, the degree of friction applied to different areas of the vessel could be controlled, which would enable steering.

“We are very excited by its potential,” said Li Fengchen, professor of fluid machinery and engineering at the Harbin Institute’s complex flow and heat transfer lab. “By combining liquid-membrane technology with supercavitation, we can significantly reduce the launch challenges and make cruising control easier,” he told the Post.

Li stressed, however, that many technical problems needed to be solved before supersonic submarine travel could take place.

[SCMP]

TIME Design

WATCH: The Science Behind the World’s Biggest Wooden Roller Coaster

Whether you can't get enough of them or can't go near them, roller coasters rely on some pretty nifty tricks of physics and design.

Your brain wants nothing to do with roller coasters—and for a wonderfully simple reason: your brain would very much like you to stay alive. So anything that’s designed to haul you up to the top of a very steep incline, drop you straight down, very fast, and repeat that process over and over again for a minute or two is something that elicits a simple, highly adaptive response in you—which pretty much involves running away.

That, at least, is how it’s supposed to work, but your entire brain isn’t in on the game. There are also thrill-seeking parts, adventurous parts, parts that like the adrenaline and serotonin and endorphin kicks that come from roller coasters. So while millions of people avoid the things, at least as many millions swarm to them, looking for ever bigger, scarier rides and ever bigger, better thrills. This summer they’ll get their wish, thanks to the opening of the appropriately named Goliath roller coaster, the biggest and fastest wooden coaster ever built, which just took its inaugural runs at the Six Flags Great America amusement park in Gurnee, Ill., about 50 miles north of Chicago.

Goliath is destined to be a tourist magnet, a cultural icon—at least until another, even bigger one comes along—and a lot of fun for a lot of people. But it’s also a feat of engineering and basic physics. And if you’re the kind of person who enjoys that sort of thing while hating the idea of actually ever riding on roller coasters—the kind of person I’ll describe as “me,” for example—there’s a lot to like about Goliath.

Modern roller coasters typically come in two varieties, wooden ones and steel ones—known unimaginatively if unavoidably as “woodies” and “steelies”—and coaster lovers debate their merits the way fans of the National and American Leagues debate the designated hitter rule.

Steelie partisans like the corkscrews and loop-the-loops made possible by the coasters’ bent-pipe architecture. Woodie fans prefer the old school clack-clack and the aesthetics of the entire structure. What’s more, plunging into and soaring through all the wooden bracing and strutwork necessary to keep the thing standing increases the sensation of speed because stationary objects that are close to you when you’re moving at high speed seem to whiz past so fast they blur. Steelies leave you more or less moving through open space, and that eliminates the illusion.

Goliath moves at a top speed of 72 mph, achieving that prodigious feat with the aid of a very simple fuel: gravity. As in all roller coasters, its biggest, steepest drop is the first one, because that’s the only way to generate enough energy to propel you through the rest of the ride—which is made up of steadily shallower hills. In the case of Goliath, that first hill is 180′ tall (55m), or about the equivalent of an 18-story building. The drop is an almost-vertical 85 degrees.

As test pilots and astronauts could tell you, such rising, falling, corkscrewing movement creates all manner of g-force effects. Most of the time we live in a familiar one-g environment. Climb to 2 g’s in a moving vehicle of some kind and you feel a force equivalent to twice your body weight. The maximum g’s Goliath achieves is 3.5. Get on the ride weighing 150 lbs., and for at least a few seconds, you’ll experience what it’s like to weigh 525 lbs.

But g forces can go in the other direction, too. With many roller coasters, the forces bottom out at about 0.2 g’s during downward plunges, meaning your 150 lb. one-g weight plummets to 30 lbs. That can give you a feeling of near-weightlessness. It’s also possible to achieve 0 g in a dive, which is how NASA’s famed “vomit comet” aircraft allow astronauts to practice weightlessness. On the Goliath, things go even further, with riders experiencing a force of minus 1 g.

“That means you’d be coming out of your seat,” says Jake Kilcup, a roller coaster designer and the chief operating officer of Rocky Mountain Construction, which designed and built Goliath. To ensure that that doesn’t happen, the Goliath cars are equipped with both lap bars and seat belts.

Though Goliath is made of wood, it does feature two so-called inversions—or half loops that take you to the top of a climb, then deliberately stall and plunge back down the same way. One includes a “raven turn,” or a twist in the track that turns the cars briefly upside down.

Even this much wouldn’t be possible on a wooden coaster if not for what Rocky Mountain calls its “Topper” track technology—a sort of hybrid of wood and metal. Most of the beams in the Goliath superstructure are made of nine laminated layers of southern yellow pine, steam-bent in stretches that call for curves and then kiln-dried. But the track itself also includes hollow metal rails running the entire 3,100 feet (or nearly a full kilometer) of the ride. The cars all have main wheels that sit on the rails as well smaller upstop and guide wheels that lock the cars to the tracks and keep them going where they’re supposed to.

“The Topper track gives a smoother ride than you get on an all-metal track,” says Kilcip, “and makes the overall roller coaster stronger than an all-wooden one.”

All that technology provides a relatively brief ride—just 87 seconds long, which is not atypical for roller coasters. For plenty of people, that’s way too short—which is what Six Flags is banking on to keep the turnstiles spinning. For plenty of other people, it’s precisely 87 seconds too long. And you know what? I’m not—um, I mean, those people aren’t—the slightest bit ashamed to admit that.

TIME Soccer

Stephen Hawking Calculates England’s Chances of World Cup Success

Science predicts the chances of a first win in almost 50 years

Renowned physicist and cosmologist Stephen Hawking has nailed his colors firmly to the mast ahead of this summer’s World Cup in Brazil.

Applying his scientific mind to the random-number generator that is Association Football, Hawking has pulled data from previous World Cup performances to determine how England can lift its first trophy in almost 50 years. Unfortunately for England fans, however, not many of Hawking’s criteria look likely to be met this summer.

Among other things, he notes that England plays best at lower altitudes (two of its first three matches take place at altitudes close to the highest point in England) and with kick-offs at 3 p.m. (all its group matches start in the evening).

Referring to England’s chances in a penalty shoot out, Hawking added “As we say in science, England couldn’t hit a cow’s arse with a banjo.”

TIME Television

The Physics of the Game of Thrones “Moon Door”

Game of Thrones: Lysa, Littlefinger
Mind the gap! Helen Sloan / HBO

Would a person really break into pieces after being dropped from the Moon Door?

Spoilers for the Game of Thrones episode “Mockingbird” (Season 4, Episode 7) follow

When Game of Thrones fans first met the Moon Door, it was described as an “elegant” solution to the problem of administering justice. When Tyrion Lannister arrived in the Vale and was made to stand trial for his non-crimes, Lysa Arryn explained that those found guilty in her mountainous realm were disposed of via gravity, not swords or ropes. The Moon Door, a hole leading to uncounted feet of air and then the rocky ground below, is the preferred method of execution. (In the books, it’s a standing door with a crescent moon carved into it, but the nothingness is probably more visually effective when the camera is looking down rather than out.)

As Lysa would later explain to Sansa in the episode “Mockingbird,” which aired May 18, people who leave through the Moon Door break apart on the rocks below. Sometimes an intact body part will be found, but the person essentially snaps.

Of course, it was Lysa, not Tyrion or Sansa, who would eventually get to experience that wild ride first hand.

But would Lysa’s death really go down — no pun intended — the way she thinks it would?

Not necessarily, according to Jim Hamilton, who runs the Free Fall Research Page, a compendium of information about falls from great heights. Though we don’t know the exact height of the Moon Door, he says that if it’s more than 2,000 feet up, the faller would reach 125 miles per hour, which means broken bones and near-certain death — but not necessarily breaking into pieces.

“I’ve never actually been asked that question,” Hamilton tells TIME, in response to the query of whether someone in Lysa’s situation would snap apart like a twig. “It would depend on the surface you hit. Maybe if you hit a rocky beach. People who fall into meadows or marshes or sand leave a human-shaped impression on the ground. They almost tend to bounce sometimes. I would think that would be more likely than breaking apart.”

And what about the Moon Door’s “elegance” as an executioner? It turns out that, as unlikely as it sounds, such a fall wouldn’t be a 100% guarantee of death. Hamilton cites the fact that during World War II, for example, there were lots of people falling out of burning airplanes — and, though many of them died, a lucky few survived, often thanks to a combination of factors that slowed their falls. Hamilton’s website chronicles the stories of several such people who survived falls from great heights.

Still, don’t look for a twist wherein Lysa comes limping back. Despite stories of long-odds living, Hamilton says she’s probably done for — even if she’s still in one piece.

TIME Physics

The Mystery of Dark Matter: WIMPS May Have the Answer

At the heart of our galaxy, the WIMPS are at war
At the heart of our galaxy, the WIMPS are at war Pete Saloutos; Getty Images/Image Source

Eighty percent of the universe is utterly invisible, but an exotic dance of mutually annihilating particles may explain it all

It’s a mystery that has haunted astronomers for nearly 80 years now: what is the mysterious dark matter that outweighs ordinary matter—all of the atoms that make up stars, galaxies and clouds in the cosmos—by a factor of four to one? We know with near-certainty that it’s out there because of its powerful gravity. Galaxies spin so fast that they’d fly apart without the massive cocoon of dark matter that surrounds them, pervades them and holds them together.

It’s not that theorists are at a loss for what the dark matter might be: the smart money says it’s a still-undiscovered type of elementary particle, produced in gigantic quantities in the immediate aftermath of the Big Bang. So far, however, despite decades of trying, nobody has managed to find anything more than a circumstantial case to back up this notion.

But that may be changing. A team of astrophysicists from a half-dozen top-tier universities and labs say they have evidence from the orbiting Fermi Large Area Telescope that some of the gamma rays emanating from the core of the Milky Way could be produced by dark matter particles colliding with and annihilating one another. The authors acknowledge that plenty of astrophysical processes generate gamma rays, but when you add up all of those known sources, says co-author Dan Hooper, of the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, near Chicago, “there’s a significant excess we can’t explain.” And while that’s far from a smoking gun, dark-matter particles are at the very least a plausible explanation.

Here’s the reasoning: based on their understanding of the Big Bang and what came out of it, physicists are convinced dark matter can’t be made of ordinary quarks, electrons and other standard particles. It has to be something else, and what fits the bill best is a type of particle that responds to only two of the four basic forces of nature—gravity and the weak nuclear force, to be specific. (The other two are the strong force and electromagnetism.)

These bits of exotic stuff, known generically as weakly interacting massive particles (or WIMPs, and yes, it’s deliberately cute), could come in matter and antimatter versions, like many particles do. Or they could be their own antiparticles, which is permitted by the laws of physics. Either way, if they approached each other closely (as they would in the densely packed heart of the Milky Way), they would annihilate each other, sending out, among other things, a burst of gamma rays that the Fermi telescope could detect.

Not only have gamma rays been spotted, the precise levels the Fermi telescope has detected are just what you’d expect if some of that radiation really is produced by WIMPS engaging in mutual destruction. But that’s where things start to get tricky. Astrophysicists think they know how many gamma rays should be coming from other sources—ordinary particles slamming into other particles, or bursts of energy from the ultra dense stellar corpses known as pulsars—but they’re not certain.

“We believe we understand these things,” says Harvard astrophysicist Doug Finkbeiner, another author, “but there’s always room to make a mistake.” So the new signals could be the result of dark matter, he says, or they could be caused by pulsars making more gamma rays than astronomers think. “Dark-matter people want it to be dark matter,” says Finkbeiner, “but pulsar people want it to be pulsars. And it could also be none of the above, something we haven’t thought of yet.”

Hooper agrees, but he puts a bit more of a positive spin on it. “We’re claiming the detection of anomalous gamma rays, and no more,” he says. “But I haven’t seen any explanations other than dark matter that hold water at this point. This is the first time I’m willing to move from ‘it looks like it might be the signal of dark matter’ to ‘it looks like it is the signal of dark matter,’ and that’s qualitatively different.”

The final verdict won’t be in for some time, though. One way the mystery might be resolved is simply through longer and more thorough observations with the Fermi telescope. “We have only four years’ worth of data,” says Hooper, “but with more time we should have a better sense of what we’re seeing.”

Another way might be via the Large Hadron Collider, which made headlines in 2012 when it found the Higgs Boson, and which has now turned its attention to finding WIMPS, among other things. The nature of dark matter could also be confirmed by one of the underground particle detectors hoping to snag a passing WIMP as it zips through the Earth. Or, it might come from an instrument called the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer, riding aboard the International Space Station. One way or another, however—unless astrophysicists have been pursuing a total dead end for the past couple of decades, that is—a mystery that has dogged science since Franklin Roosevelt occupied the White House may finally be on the verge of a solution.

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