'Nova Wonders' Asks 'What's the Universe Made Of' Tonight (Exclusive Clip)

Ninety-five percent of the universe seems to be made up of mysterious matter and energy scientists don't yet understand — and a new clip from "Nova Wonders: What's the Universe Made Of," premiering tonight (May 30) at 9 p.m. EDT/8 p.m. CDT on PBS, shows a key detection of a violent smashup that could help unlock one of those cosmic mysteries. Scientists will be online at air time to take questions during a live broadcast of the episode on Nova's Facebook page tonight.

When gravitational-wave detectors recorded a distant collision of two neutron stars, astronomers around the world got the call and began to search for visible evidence of the crash. A team in Chile from the Dark Energy Survey — as well as other groups — was able to detect the so-called kilonova's light, providing the first-ever observations of both light and gravitational waves from the same cosmic explosion.

For the Dark Energy Survey crew, these observations will help gauge the universe's expansion rate, aiding their investigation into the mysterious dark energy pushing the universe apart. [First Glimpse of Colliding Neutron Stars Yields Stunning Pics]

"What's the Universe Made Of" digs deep into two cosmic mysteries — dark matter and dark energy — showing how researchers know those entities exist, but also revealing that they are still trying to learn what they're made of and how they work. 

Dark matter, which seems to interact with the universe only through gravity, lends its heft to galaxies so their whirling doesn't send stars flying. And dark energy propels the universe's expansion faster and faster. Together, scientists think these two make up 95 percent of the universe, leaving the matter and energy we know and love at a paltry 5 percent. The film tracks the multiple angles scientists explore to pin down the phenomena.

Editor's note: At 1 p.m. today, Space.com sat down with University of California, Riverside, physicist Flip Tanedo for an interview about the ongoing search for dark matter and Tanedo's involvement with "Nova Wonders" — tune in on Space.com's Facebook page or check above to see that video. And if you're still wondering about that other 95 percent of the universe, Tanedo will be among the scientists taking questions tonight when the episode goes live at 9 p.m. EDT/8 p.m. CDT on PBS, and simulcast on Nova's Facebook page.

Email Sarah Lewin at slewin@space.com or follow her @SarahExplains. Follow us @Spacedotcom, Facebook and Google+. Original article on Space.com

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Sarah Lewin
Associate Editor

Sarah Lewin started writing for Space.com in June of 2015 as a Staff Writer and became Associate Editor in 2019 . Her work has been featured by Scientific American, IEEE Spectrum, Quanta Magazine, Wired, The Scientist, Science Friday and WGBH's Inside NOVA. Sarah has an MA from NYU's Science, Health and Environmental Reporting Program and an AB in mathematics from Brown University. When not writing, reading or thinking about space, Sarah enjoys musical theatre and mathematical papercraft. She is currently Assistant News Editor at Scientific American. You can follow her on Twitter @SarahExplains.