4 Things Science Has Predicted That We Still Haven’t Discovered
Science, at least the way it’s taught to us at an elementary and high-school level, feels like it’s all about proof. Not that the American school system is particularly great at teaching anything except how cool Christopher Columbus was, but this too is a bit inaccurate. In reality, there’s a huge amount of science that, even after tests and studies, remains at best a heavily supported theory.
Now, before somebody screenshots or copies that paragraph out-of-context and posts it to a Facebook group to rile up a bunch of unvaccinated aunts, this isn’t saying “scientists are full of shit.” It’s just a natural factor of the uncertainty of the terrifying world we live in — that often, scientists can figure out something exists before they figure out how to measure it. I’m sure that Paul Dirac would have loved to be able to pull a piece of antimatter out of his pocket for proof when he figured out it existed in 1928. He, unfortunately, had to patiently wait until 1932 for someone to ever observe it, and even now, containing any of it long enough to observe it is global scientific news.
Wondering what other evidence-supported scientific theories are still waiting on official discovery? Here are four that range from heavily theoretical to a simple waiting game. And hey, keep in mind that this is likely going to be a fairly surface level exploration from a verified Bachelor of Fine Arts holder. Scientists, I personally invite you to absolutely go off in the comments.
Planet Nine/Planet X
Planet Nine is the name given to a theoretical, massive planet deep out in the reaches of our solar system, and a name that truly salts Pluto’s fresh wounds of being kicked out of the club. You might think that something the size of not only a planet, but among the larger ones in our solar system, estimated to be similar in size to Jupiter or Neptune, would be pretty easy to check out. After all, that’s what all those crazy telescopes are for, right? Unfortunately, especially when we’re talking about stuff this far away, and telescopes at this level of magnification, there’s one big hurdle: knowing where you’re supposed to point it. If you huck a single green pea into a meadow, sure, you know for a fact there’s a pea in that meadow. But if somebody hands you a magnifying glass and asks you to prove it, you’re in for a whole lot of crawling.
The reason scientists think it exists comes from that classic moment that sparks so many discoveries: a scientist going, “Well, that’s weird.” What’s weird in this case was the unusual orbits of dwarf planets and other celestial bodies in the Kuiper Belt, which, after analysis, were pretty neatly explained by the gravitational effect of a large undiscovered planet beyond Pluto. Whether it really exists or not is hotly debated, and probably will be until somebody finally wrangles it into view.
For a pretty complicated scientific theory, it’s surprising how commonly known of a term “dark matter” is. This can most likely be attributed to it sounding absolutely bad-ass, more like something the Avengers have to steal from a space prison than something based on high-level mathematics. Again, some peculiarities in gravity are what tipped off science to the idea of this unobserved type of material.
One thing that keeps it unobserved, and probably will for a very long time, is that dark matter received such an excellent name because it does not absorb, reflect or emit light. This is a pretty horrible stroke of luck for the human retina and every sort of scientifically enhanced version of it. So why does anyone believe it exists? Mainly, that if it doesn’t exist, galaxies don’t make any fucking sense. Based on the amount of measurable matter, there just shouldn’t be enough gravity to keep them together, and the bodies inside should be scattering around the universe like a garden sprinkler.
This one can start to feel almost like scientific sudoku. Let me explain: We know for a fact that there are undiscovered elements that will eventually be added to the periodic table in the future. That’s easy enough to grasp, and someone saying, “No, I think we’re done” would be insane. What’s more interesting though, is that even if an element hasn’t been discovered, scientists already know not only that it exists, but a whole lot about it for something that’s never been seen.
All of this is thanks to the periodic table, which is more than just a way to fit all the known elements on a single classroom handout. The arrangement of the periodic table, by atomic number, tells scientists both where a future element will land and lets them infer its properties and some characteristics. Even the very first version of a periodic table, which wasn’t arranged by atomic number, was still enough for its creator, Dmitri Mendeleev, to accurately predict the existence — and the properties — of the elements that would go into the gaps he had in his version. When scandium, gallium and germanium were discovered, they slotted in right where Mendeleev said they would, and more impressively, matched up with properties he’d predicted.
And so, does element 119 exist? One hundred percent. We’ve just never been able to create or observe it.
Pathogenic Fungus Capable of Infecting Humans
Let’s cap things off with a little topical doom and gloom for anyone that’s been watching the HBO adaptation of The Last Of Us. In the cold open of the initial episode, which I cannot in any world imagine counts as a spoiler, scientists discuss the capability of pathogenic fungi to adapt enough to live within a human’s high body temperature. If you were hoping this was nothing more than a spooky story, I have bad news: It’s very possible. I’m not talking about the fungi that have already handled it, like athlete’s foot, either, but theoretical fungi just as horrific as HBO’s variant.
Of course, our body temperatures would have to lower first, or fungi would have to evolve to live at higher temperatures. Well, why not both? Climate change has been forcing fungi to adapt to naturally higher temperatures, and human body temperatures have been dropping, with humans today having a body temperature of approximately 1 degree Fahrenheit lower than in the early 1800s. We’re still many, many decades away from turning into the most terrifying version of Toad from Mario like in the show, but it’s scientifically sound on a long enough timeline.