It’s Aether…or Not

Our universe was different in ancient times.  There we were, living on Earth, and there was everything beyond and no one knew where beyond really started. It was beyond the atmosphere but at that time no one had ventured beyond the atmosphere.  OK, that’s nit-picking.  It didn’t matter because it was just out there.

The universe according to ancient astronomers was organized into concentric spheres, with Earth at center. Everything stayed in its sphere, orbiting about the Earth, well, except for comets, and meteors.  They seemed not to occupy any celestial sphere.  They were thought to exist in the atmosphere, scary and portents of catastrophe.

The Moon, Sun, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn were each within individual spheres and each planet had multiple spheres to explain retrograde movement.  The stars and constellations had their own sphere.

So, what supported the spheres?  Without support, the spheres would crash into each other.  Was it water, oil, air? No, they all underwent changes over time.  It had to be made of an unchanging element, a pure element that could not be broken down.  It had to be a Fifth Element, the quintessence.  Ancient astronomers called it the Aether.  They determined that each celestial sphere was in fact made of Aether, held the objects within, and kept them separate.  Great, a tidy explanation of what we saw up there at night and in the day.

But what was the Aether? No one knew.  It was described variously as crystalline yet ethereal, tenuous yet strong enough to hold the mighty heavens together. It was perfectly clear as to let light shine through without distortion.  It was the invisible foundation of our universe.

Then came the Renaissance and later scientific discoveries, like the Earth is not the center of everything.  Better astronomers/mathematicians worked out more accurate planetary orbits and discovered they all, including Earth, orbited around the Sun.  Celestial spheres went away and so did Aether – wasn’t needed.  In the 17th century Isaac Newton postulated everything was ruled by an invisible force called Gravity!  Gravity was the underlying foundation of our universe.  A new, tidy explanation of what we saw up there at night and in the day.

Then came Dark Matter and Dark Energy.  Gravity is no longer sufficient to explain everything. In fact, gravity seems to be losing out to dark energy as our universe’s expansion rate accelerates. Now what?! We do not know yet.

While investigating with deep spectroscopic exposures astronomers have discovered an invisible gas is the foundation from which galaxies form, aggregate into clusters and super cluster webs.  So, our universe is a tangle of galaxy webs, immersed in some invisible substance.

It’s Aether…or not.  It’s not, it’s actually hydrogen.

What’s in the Sky?

June 27-28; 45 minutes before sunrise; south:  A bright waning gibbous Moon pairs with Saturn, then Jupiter.

June 29; dusk; west:  Venus, Mars, and star Regulus form a line angling upward above the horizon.