Column Date 2009-11-15

Where has the universe gone?

Well, it's worse than I thought.

Scientists now say they don't know where most of the universe is. Oh, it'll turn up, they say. Someday. Someplace.

But right now, they just can't find most of it.

You see, according to physicists, there are two kinds of matter: Ordinary Matter and Dark Matter. (Stick with me on this. It's not as complicated as it sounds.)

Ordinary Matter is stuff like planets and stars and bowling balls and Barbie dolls and paperclips and ducks.

Dark Matter, which makes up 95% of the universe, is something that nobody has ever seen. It's there in theory, you understand, but our scientists can't find it anyplace in the universe. Which is a little disconcerting, to say the least.

Not only that, but their latest theory is that half of all the Ordinary Matter -- the stuff we can see and touch -- got lost about ten billion years ago!

That's right. They now say that 50% of all this matter just wandered off someplace and nobody knows where it is.

Mysterious? Scary? Supernatural? Nope.

If our physicists and astronomers want to know where all the missing matter on earth went, they should come down out of their ivory towers and take a good look around.

Let's start with the obvious: missing people.

Every year in America, roughly 250,000 people are reported missing.

But let's get real: according to authorities, may of them are not actually missing -- they're still around, but they're hiding from ex-spouses, the police, gambling debts, the IRS and so on. Not to mention untold thousands in witness protection programs.

Maybe the physicists can't find them, but we all know they're there, right?

Then consider my reading glasses -- just Ordinary Matter, like galaxies and stars.

My glasses vanish several times a day, every day. I have no idea where they are at any given moment, but they always turn up. Usually next to my car keys.

In fact, lots of things we thought were missing eventually turn up.

They finally found the missing link in evolution, didn't they? And my Prius eventually turned up up in that humungous mall parking lot. And we all know that when they print a rich man's obituary, dozens of potential heirs and lawyers materialize out of thin air.

But to be scientific and open-minded, we must admit that some things really vanish, never to appear in the universe again.

The 'disappeared' union boss, Jimmy Hoffa, comes to mind.

Along with thousands of votes in Florida, hundreds of soldiers around the world who go AWOL every day, all those ships and airplanes that blunder into the Bermuda Triangle, and dozens of my socks (left foot) over the years.

My own scientific conclusion: based on the available evidence, I am convinced that most of the stuff in the universe they think is missing is still around.

The scientists just don't know where to look.

(c) 2009 Peter Tannen