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Dark Matter - What is it and why is it important?


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I keep hearing about dark matter both in science fiction books and in science related books. I understand that it is not detectable directly. That the only why scientists know that it exsits is how other things in space react to it. My question is - I am not quite sure I understand how they know dark matter exists and why is there so much interest in it. From a science fiction standpoint, there are a lot of interesting theories for what dark matter is. What do scientists think that it is (or could be)?


If I am not being completely clear, forgive me. I am a lay person and science (physics esp) is very new to me. I find it fascinating though. I only wish I had taken more science classes when I was in school.

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