X-Files and Particle Physics

Season 2, Episode 23 of the X-Files would be fun to watch after you just studied some particle physics.  (I feel a little bit like one of those wine-pairing people now.  I’ll suggest exactly the right vintage of fiction to go along with your science.)

Or, maybe this is the kind of episode that’s better when it seems plausible, when you don’t know exactly what the words they’re saying mean, so you can suspend some disbelief.  This is definitely the kind of episode where all the real science words don’t mean what they mean- they all just mean “science.” Or, “complicated, experimental science that we don’t fully understand yet!”

The reason this episode is fun to watch after particle physics is that they use a lot of particle words, like quarks.  Another fun thing is that Mulder says that quarks haven’t been proven to exist yet.  Season 2 aired in 1994, and the top quark was proven to exist in 1995. (the last of the quarks to be proven to exist.)

The main problem is that they throw in a bunch of particle names, like quarks, and then call them all “dark matter” together, which is silly.  Dark matter is a proposed and generally accepted thing that accounts for some gravitational effects we can see.  Basically, we can’t see what’s causing some gravitational accelerations.  It is hypothesized that visible matter (stuff we can see) only makes up about 5% of the universe we can see.  About 30% of it is dark matter, and the rest is dark energy.  Isn’t that crazy?

Anyway, it’s called dark matter because it doesn’t emit or absorb light, which is why we can’t see it, and the theory is that it’s made of a new type of subatomic particle that we don’t know about yet.

That stuff is all weird enough that it seems pretty perfect for the x-files.  They didn’t take it in quite the direction I would have (Tony Shaloub uses his shadow, which has become dark matter, to kill people) but it was still fun. And silly. But, still scary to watch, even 15 years later.


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