THE history of mankind’s relationship with the cosmos has been one of repeated revelations that our place within it is far smaller than we had believed.
Once we thought that the Earth was centre of all and the universe was little more than window dressing for the night sky.
Then astronomers found our planet to be one lump of rock orbiting a Sun that is one star among many hundreds of billions in an unremarkable galaxy, which is itself among countless billions.
In a historical heartbeat we went from being the kings of a palatial universe built just for us to an invisible smudge on a speck of matter, orbiting a mote of incandescent dust, caught in a swirling eddy, lost in the dark ocean of the cosmos.
Then, just as it appeared we had found our – albeit reduced – place in the universe, astronomers realised the way it was behaving didn’t tally with everything we knew to be in it... something was missing. So they took measurements, made calculations and concluded that more than 96 per cent of the matter and energy in the universe was missing (well, it wasn’t missing – it was definitely there, we just couldn’t see it).
Humanity’s slide down the greasy pole of significance was complete – a smudge on a speck orbiting a mote of glowing dust in a galaxy afloat in a vast ocean that makes up just four per cent of the universe.
Yet, rather than damaging our resolve, each revelation of the vastness of the cosmos has fuelled our need to better understand it. Now the hunt is on to find the missing portion of the universe...