If you think it’s hard to swallow the concept of dark matter, you’re not alone. Decades ago, a few astronomers began to suspect that the universe was swarming with some mysterious, invisible substance that was yanking galaxies around with its own powerful gravity. And for those same decades, most of those astronomers’ colleagues dismissed the notion as pretty much nuts.
But the evidence kept mounting, and nowadays dark matter is a firmly established concept in modern astrophysics. It pretty much has to exist, in fact, to explain why individual galaxies spin as fast as they do without flying apart, and why groups of galaxies move the way they do in relation to one another. If there weren’t 10 times as much dark matter as there are stars and gas clouds and other visible matter, the universe would make no sense. Nature abhors irrationality, and so we live in a universe in which just about every galaxy, including the Milky Way, is held safely inside a huge blob of dark matter like a butterfly floating inside a glass paperweight.