Like HowStuffWorks on Facebook!

10 Crackpot Theories About Space

        Science | Astronomy

Observing Dark Energy Keeps It Unstable
It’s estimated that dark energy makes up about 70 percent of the universe. But don’t gawk at it. ©Goodshoot/Thinkstock
It’s estimated that dark energy makes up about 70 percent of the universe. But don’t gawk at it. ©Goodshoot/Thinkstock

You've heard the old saying about how a watched pot never boils. Well, according to some theorists, peering too closely at the universe -- or parts of it, at least -- destroys it. Some people say that observing dark energy is akin to destabilizing our reality.

Scientists currently think that matter -- stuff like rocks and glass and water -- makes up only about 4 percent of our universe. More than 26 percent, however, is dark matter [source: NASA]. You can't reach out and grab dark matter. You can't see it through binoculars. It's a type of mass that we're unable to see. We know it exists because of its gravitational effects.

Another 70 percent is dark energy [source: NASA]. Scientists aren't sure what it is, but this unseen force throughout empty space seems to be propelling the accelerating expansion of the universe.

And in one widely publicized research article, professor Lawrence Krauss speculated that simply observing dark energy "may have reduced the life expectancy of the universe." It's due to a quantum Zeno effect, a quirk of quantum mechanics which basically says that observing an object directly affects it [source: Krauss and Dent]. So by the simple act of observing dark energy, we may have messed with the inner quantum clockwork of the entire universe, possibly causing it to revert to some earlier form ... and sending us into a strange "Star Trek"-worthy oblivion.

Actually, Krauss's article was exaggerated by the media, especially the parts about the universe ending. He immediately edited for clarification, but he didn't skewer his idea altogether. The quantum Zeno effect is very real. So if you set out to observe dark energy, for the sake of the universe, don't look too closely, just to be safe.