Science in Chapter Books Like Penderwicks
I am a HUGE fan of The Penderwicks series by Jeanne Birdsall. I love them all, but the second book, The Penderwicks on Gardam Street, is my favorite. In this book, Mr. Penderwick goes on the dating circuit, much to his (and his daughters’) chagrin. The Penderwicks are back at home after the summer at Arudel (first book) in Western Massachusetts on Gardam Street. It sounds like the perfect neighborhood full of pseudo big brother type neighbors. Not the kind that are spying on you but there IS spying going on in the book … I mean the big-brother-that-you-wished-you-always-had kind. Their neighbor Nick fits the bill as coach-t0-all.
But I digress. There’s a thread of science that runs through this book and I love how the Penderwicks manages to sneak this into the story line. Their new neighbor is a widow, Iantha. She’s a physics professor at the same college as Mr. Penderwick. Her area of speciality is … dark matter. When I read the book, I had no idea what dark matter is but sort of pictured it as a black hole.
For anyone who is interested in dark matter, either because of this book or from a fascination with the galaxies, there’s a great article on i09 called The Mystery of Dark Matter.
This is what is known about dark matter: “Dark matter almost certainly exists – otherwise, galaxy clusters wouldn’t have sufficient gravity to hold themselves together. ”
Here’s an interesting except:
Researcher Matt Walker, a Hubble Fellow at the Center for Astrophysics, explains why this result is so baffling:
“After completing this study, we know less about dark matter than we did before. Our measurements contradict a basic prediction about the structure of cold dark matter in dwarf galaxies. Unless or until theorists can modify that prediction, cold dark matter is inconsistent with our observational data.”
University of Cambridge researcher Jorge Peñarrubia, who worked with Walker on the study, explains what they saw in the two dwarf galaxies:
“Stars in a dwarf galaxy swarm like bees in a beehive instead of moving in nice, circular orbits like a spiral galaxy. That makes it much more challenging to determine the distribution of dark matter. If a dwarf galaxy were a peach, the standard cosmological model says we should find a dark matter ‘pit’ at the center. Instead, the first two dwarf galaxies we studied are like pitless peaches.”
So where do we go from here? Well, it definitely doesn’t invalidate the basic dark matter model – as much as this is a less than encouraging result, dark matter still stands up to scrutiny far better than any of the alternatives, such as Modified Newtonian Dynamics (MOND) – if you don’t believe me, check out Dr. Dave Goldberg’s fantastic primer on all things dark matter. This may well mean that we need to move away from the cold dark matter model to other explanations, although only cold dark matter really explains the formation of galaxies.
Turns out that Iantha is in a fascinating field of study. I hope in a future book, she’ll enlighten us on her take on dark matter. In any case, it’s a mystery that we all can ponder! I hope that young fans of The Penderwicks series will go on to solve it!
p.s. Here are more links on dark matter:
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