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Disclaimer: I'm not an astronomer, physicist, mathematician, etc. so this is a question from a complete newbie.

One of the greatest mysteries of our age is "where is the dark matter?" The universe can be observed to be curved (aka have gravity) in many places where we cannot detect any sufficiently large mass nearby.

There are many hypotheses about this, but one I've never seen discussed is that the universe simply isn't flat by default. The assumption always is that gravity is the only thing that curves the universe, and that without any mass there will be no curvature. But what if it isn't true? What if in it's "default state" the universe isn't smooth and flat, but has some random curves anyway, just like that?

Of course, this is just another hypothesis, but my question for this site is - Why doesn't it seem that anyone is considering this possibility?


Added:

It seems I haven't explained myself clearly enough. To put it in analogy - mass & gravity are often depicted as objects weighing down on a sheet.

Gravity

Dark matter is the same, except we cannot see the "apple". The bend is there, but there's nothing in it. We can see other objects attracted to it, gravitation lensing works as expected, etc. But nothing there when we look at it directly. It's like an invisible apple.

And my question is - why do we assume that the "sheet" is smooth by default? That there cannot be bends in it without apples. Or, in other words, yes, we know that mass causes gravity, but why cannot gravity ( == bends in spacetime) also exist without mass?


Added 2: It's also quite possible that my pop-sci level understanding of gravity is way off and I'm asking nonsense. In that case, I'd like to understand what I'm missing.

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  • $\begingroup$ The universe seems to be flat, or at least having a very small curvature. What are you asking exactly? For how instead of calling dark matter what is indirectly observed by means of its gravitational effects (local curvature exceeding that by just normal matter) we don't simply say "its like that by default"?. This is hardly a scientific approach, and current theory do link matter and curvature. At least one would have to dismiss classic and relativistic theories to explain or just describe the rotation of a galaxy. In other words dark matter is a term for a real effect, whatever origin. At.. $\endgroup$ – Alchimista Sep 9 at 10:55
  • $\begingroup$ ... the current stage origin it should be a form of matter. $\endgroup$ – Alchimista Sep 9 at 10:56
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    $\begingroup$ Simple answer is that dark matter behaves, in every way we have available to probe it (which more or less consist of various measurements of the gravitational topography of the areas), like matter being there. Gas, more specifically, but matter, still. A gas which has no sensible interaction with either light or with normal matter. $\endgroup$ – The_Sympathizer Sep 9 at 12:05
  • $\begingroup$ I have updated my question to make it clearer. $\endgroup$ – Vilx- Sep 9 at 12:19
  • $\begingroup$ This is what we call "alternative theories of gravity". The short answer is that there are many many proposals, and none of them can explain the observations as well as dark matter. $\endgroup$ – Javier Sep 9 at 21:22
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People do consider something like what you propose: essentially, we can put your theory under the more general umbrella of "what if there's no dark matter, it's just that gravity works differently?". After all, the curvature of spacetime is gravity, so you're proposing that gravity is not like we think it is, rather, that it can exist in regions without matter to source it.

The problem with these theories is that as far as I know, none of them can explain all the observations as well and as simply as dark matter can. I like this Reddit comment that outlines all the big pieces of evidence for DM: you can see that it pops up everywhere, in different regimes, leading to effects that would be quite hard to explain otherwise.

Regarding your theory in particular, maybe it could work. You just assert the existence of "pockets" of gravity where we observe them to be, with no need for a source. The problem with this is that it's not predictive, and it doesn't really explain anything. Where do these pockets come from? Why do they move around exactly as if they had matter in them? Just saying they exist and washing your hands is not very satisfactory: that's not why (or how) we do science. And if they act exactly as though they were sourced by matter, how do we distinguish this theory from the usual dark matter theory? Wouldn't DM be simpler?

The only way I can think to salvage the theory is to come up with a consistent mathematical theory of "self-sustaining" gravity, and see if you can work out a probability distribution for the appearance of these gravity wells, taking into account the expansion of the universe and all that. But cosmology is a self-consistent model: the speed of the expansion of the universe is affected by DM, so you have to take that into account somehow. And people have been trying and failing to do this for many years now.

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  • $\begingroup$ I love the Reddit link :-) $\endgroup$ – Time4Tea Sep 9 at 23:22
  • $\begingroup$ Ok, awesome reddit post! You get the checkmark! $\endgroup$ – Vilx- Sep 10 at 4:45
  • $\begingroup$ Hey, it just struck me that there is already a precedent of something not very predictive in science. Quantum Mechanics predicts many degrees of randomness in quantum particles. It doesn't say why or how, just that it's random and that's how it is. Out of curiosity, how is it different from me saying that space is just randomly curved in places, and that's just how it is? (Well, except for the quantum mechanics part being widely accepted and my ideas not) $\endgroup$ – Vilx- Sep 10 at 7:55
  • $\begingroup$ @Vilx- QM predicts the probabilities of the possible outcomes, with incredible accuracy. Quantum randomness is thought to be the seed of the fluctuations we see in the universe, so you are not very far off there. The real problem is that you propose that gravity should work differently than we think it does, and no one has managed to make that fit the observations (so far). $\endgroup$ – Javier Sep 10 at 11:31
  • $\begingroup$ OK, I think I get it. Thanks. :) $\endgroup$ – Vilx- Sep 10 at 12:54
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If true, that would be a massive change in the way we understand space.

Currently, there is no "there" in space. You cannot specify a location "in space". You always have to refer to other objects to define location, distance, etc. Space itself has no dots, nor does it have privileged places. You can't grab a marker and draw lines on it. If space changes in any way (curvature, etc), it's always due to matter/energy bending it.

Basically, space is not a thing. It's just a background where relations such as distance are known to exist.

What you're proposing is space with local features. Suddenly, space has privileged places, that are made privileged not by matter/energy. That would be a very, very different thing.

I would tend to be very skeptical of such a view, simply based on Occam's razor. The current model is simpler. But, of course, if you could make testable predictions and those would turn out to be true, then evidence would force everyone to change their view.

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  • $\begingroup$ OK, but... if "space is not a thing", then what is the "thing" that gravity bends? $\endgroup$ – Vilx- Sep 9 at 21:12
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    $\begingroup$ @Vilx- The "bending" is a metaphor that makes it easier to understand the concept. It's not like gravity literally reaches out, grabs something, and bends it. What changes is a set of relationships called distance. The totality of all such possible relationships is what we call space. That's all. $\endgroup$ – Florin Andrei Sep 10 at 5:19
  • $\begingroup$ I disagree with this answer. You can perfectly well have a gravitational field with no matter around to specify locations. The gravitational field is also a physical entity. $\endgroup$ – Javier Sep 10 at 15:18

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