Monday, 3 April 2017

B is for Baryonic Matter

Most of you are probably scratching your heads wondering what baryonic matter is, and its significance to astronomy.

Essentially, baryonic matter is all the matter we can see, taste, touch, and encounter. It is the atoms in our DNA, and the atoms in the stars. While the strict definition claims it is matter composed of baryons (like a proton or neutron, as opposed to photons or leptons), the loose definition (which is preferred by astronomers) is everything composed of atomic matter.

Yes, it's stuff.

This is significant to the astronomer, because it's most of what we observe. Baryonic matter tends to interact with the electromagnetic spectrum. Pretty much everything we know about the universe we know purely through observation. It's rare we send out probes and robots (like Opportunity on Mars) to physically sample stuff. Everything else we know came to us through observation of the interaction of BM with the EM.

Stars glow, and we can see their light in all manner of wavelengths. Other stuff can glow too, or it can reflect light, and we can observe that. Yet other stuff can block out or absorb light, and we can note it by the blank spot it creates (like a dust cloud).  Some galaxies are so massive they can bend gravity, and thus bend the light from even more distant galaxies behind them (through a process called gravitational lensing). We catch all this in light buckets called telescopes and then we study it and try to unravel the mystery of what we see.

You'd be surprised how well and specifically light and radio waves and X-rays interact with baryonic matter. Thus, we learn about our universe.

The opposite of baryonic matter is non-baryonic matter, or Dark Matter (so called because it doesn't emit any form of electromagnetic radiation that we can detect).  More about this on D-day.

Wanna go hardcore?  Here's some Astrophysics Data System articles to browse regarding Baryonic Matter.

What do you think is the most significant discovery regarding baryonic matter?

Her Grace contains baryonic matter, as does the galaxy in which she lives.


Chris Votey said...

So if Baryonic Matter is everything that can be seen and touched, does that include Dark Matter. On one hand, no, because we can't see it, only observe its affect... but if we could touch Dark Matter, would that then make Baryonic Matter?

Karnika Kapoor said...

It was an intresting and informative read.
Thanks for sharing :)
Best Wishes!

Unknown said...

Intriguing :) All the best for the challenge!
Ros from Fangirl Stitches

Unknown said...

That's very cool, I didn't realize it was called that. Wouldn't the eventual (hopeful) discovery of the Higgs boson prove why it exists?

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