“Dark energy” is the phrase we use to describe an observed phenomena. That phenomena is the acceleration of the expansion of the universe. Wikipedia explains:
In 1998 observations of Type Ia supernovae suggested that the expansion of the universe is speeding up. In the past few years, these observations have been corroborated by several independent sources: the cosmic microwave background, gravitational lensing, age of the universe and large scale structure, as well as improved measurements of the supernovae.
When Einstein developed general relativity, as is well known, he added a factor to his equation because it was necessary to reproduce the universe he thought we lived in — a static universe with no expansion or contraction. When we observed that the universe was not only expanding but accelerating in its expansion, that extra term in the equation was already there to express it.
That term is capital lambda (Î›). It’s a pressure term, in one way of thinking. Just like a gas or a fluid has pressure, it appears the universe has some sort of pressure. In another way of thinking, Λ is an energy because pressure and energy density are related in a linear way. So there is an apparently uncompensated energy that results in a universe that is out of balance — it’s being very slowly blown apart.
So, like dark matter, dark energy is “real”, in this case “real” meaning that it’s a name for something that we really do observe. Some people are uncomfortable with this. They think, in the example of dark energy, that we don’t need an extra term in the equation, the rest of the equation is somehow wrong. That is, of course, another perfectly valid option. Either physics is wrong or dark matter/energy exist or both!
But don’t be fooled — the phenomena are real. We really do find an unaccounted for gravitational influence (dark matter) and we really do see something acting like a pressure in our cosmology (dark energy). This is not philosophy, it’s science and it’s very good science at that. The fact that there are still things we don’t know is the fun part!
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