Professor Moonbeam

Professor Jez Moonbeam's Science Club

Tripping the Dark Fantastic

What is darkness? According to some scientists, darkness is just the absence of light. But hey, what do those bread-heads know? If they can't monetise it for their corporate paymasters they don't want to know. I mean, you can't sell 'darkbulbs' can you? Nobody's interested in 'darksabers'? Who has any use for a 'darkroom'? Okay, scrub that last one 'cos it is actually a thing, but the point that I'm trying to make is that all those dudes riding the scientific bandwagon are only interested in something if they can make moolah out of it, and that just ain't cool.

Thankfully there are some of us who still have some integrity; who still want to pull back the curtain of reality and push forward the boundaries of knowledge. And all that pushing and pulling takes it out of you, especially when you don't have vast underground atom smashers at your disposal and have to make do with whatever basic mid-priced equipment you can lay your hands on at your local hardware store.

But that hasn't stopped me trying to probe the eternal mysteries of the universe, and it's why of late I have spent my evenings sitting in the dark in my shed. It's all perfectly legitimate, despite what that witch Mrs Collins at number 26 might think. And I would like to remind her, if she's reading this, that I was completely exonerated by the police, even if they did somewhat misleadingly claim that I was 'experimenting on myself'.

Anyhow, what better way is there for a scientist discover to true nature of darkness that by immersing himself in it? What exactly is it, I wanted to know? Where does it come from? What is it made of? I began my researches in a methodical manner with a few basic experiments, the results of which are detailed below.

Experiment 1: What Does Darkness Taste Like?

Method

I sat in my shed in the darkness with my tongue extended for a period of two hours and twenty-three minutes. I waggled my tongue around, recording my observations on a portable recording device.

Result

Darkness is mostly without flavour, although it does appear to taste faintly metallic at times. However, upon putting on the lights I discovered that during this period I may occasionally have been licking a watering can.

Conclusion

Inconclusive

Experiment 2: What Does Darkness Smell Like?

Method

I sat in my shed in the darkness repeatedly sniffing my surroundings, recording my observations on a portable recording device.

Result

I detected aromas of old paint, damp newspapers, stale sweat and an odour that I can best describe as being akin to that of a rotting badger. My experiment was curtailed because I was sniffing so fiercely that I hyperventilated, fell off my stool and smashed my head on a garden gnome.

Conclusion

Inconclusive. Although I did subsequently discover a dead badger under the shed, so the exercise wasn't a complete waste of time

Experiment 3: What Does Darkness Sound Like?

Method

I sat in my shed in the darkness listening, recording my observations, very quietly, on a portable recording device.

Result

It was difficult to obtain meaningful results as I live in a particularly noisy neighbourhood. In spite of this, once I had managed to filter out the traffic noise, the sounds of my neighbours having an argument, two foxes going at it in a nearby hedge and various assorted bongs, crashes and clatters from the steel drum society practising in the village hall, I was able to discern a constant, unmistakable background noise of wheezing and rasping.

Conclusions

Darkness definitely sounds like wheezing and rasping. On the other hand, I cannot entirely rule out the possibility that my asthma was in some way a factor.

Experiment 4: Is Darkness Flammable?

Method

I sat in my shed in the darkness, striking matches and waving them around in the air, recording my observations on a flameproof portable recording device.

Result

After working my way through two dozen boxes of matches with no sign of any result, I was about to give up for the night when abruptly there was a flicker and a sudden 'Whoosh'. The flames rapidly took hold, burning up the darkness to reveal large patches of intense orange light. Incidentally, there was also a great deal of heat and smoke and it struck me that it would be prudent to evacuate the structure at this point. Fortunately the darkness had mostly gone by this point, which meant that I could easily find the door through which I could effect my escape.

Conclusion

Initially I took this to be incontrovertible evidence that darkness is indeed combustible, but on reflection I have had to reconsider. Once the flames had finally died down the darkness came back but the shed had gone, which leads me to the conclusion that whilst darkness may or may not be flammable, sheds most certainly are.

So, after all this activity I had drawn a big fat blank and had nothing to show for my efforts except for a small pile of ash, a sternly worded letter from the local fire officer and a big heap of bad karma. Bummer!

Some other guys might have given up at this point, but not this scientist. No way. Besides, I had been able to draw one conclusion: darkness is intangible. I certainly hadn't been able to tange it, anyways. Was there no way that I could capture it, I thought? I could examine it properly under strict laboratory conditions if only I had a sample. And a laboratory.

I went out the following evening and tried to obtain a quantity of the stuff using a margarine tub. I thought I had been successful but when I checked the tub the following morning I found that the darkness had been too wily for me and escaped in the night. Also the margarine had gone runny and had bits of grass in it. Perhaps I should have used an empty tub?

Clearly I needed to devote some serious thinking time to this heinous problem, and that's how I came up with my Dark-o-Scope. This was built on the principle of infinitely refracting wavelength modification and was fashioned from a Pringles tube, a system of mirrors, a prism and several feet of aluminium foil. It took a fortnight to create, then a further week to prepare the patent application. Finally I was ready to put my Dark-o-Scope to the test.

It didn't work, so don't expect to find one on sale in your local gadget shop any time soon.

sample of darkness

A sample of darkness as seen under a microscope. Scientists have discovered that not only is darkness granular, it also contains particles of lint.

Fortunately, that's not all I'd been up to at that time, no way. I'd also been eating a lot of beans on toast, and beans on toast always makes me think outside the box. Actually, beans on toast always makes me think outside the house, since that's where my mother always makes me go and sit after a heavy bean experience. (Coincidentally, Heavy Bean Experience was the name of the band I was in at college. I played bass.)

No, I had launched another line of enquiry: I had posted a message on the Hawkwind Appreciation Society's online forum asking if anyone could provide me with a sample of darkness. And do you know what - I got a reply! Actually, I got quite a lot of replies, most of them the usual tired abuse, although somebody did call me a 'redundant plank of fetid donkey sick' which I thought was pleasingly inventive. But one cat did come through for me and said that he had a sample of darkness that I could have for the right price. I shouldn't be surprised 'cos those guys are real cool.

I met up with him in a pub later that week. He said he had the darkness with him and he would sell it to me for a pony. I told him I didn't have a pony, just my bike. He said he would let me have it for twenty five quid instead. He handed me a small, opaque plastic bottle which had previously contained some sort of yoghurt drink. This, he said, contained a quantity of darkness which he had captured and 'processed' last week.

Now, I know what you're thinking. You're thinking: Hey Jez, we know you're a pretty smart guy, but what kind of scientist is it that takes claims like this at face value? Surely you should be asking this dude some pretty tough scientific questions? Well yes, of course you're right, so I asked him how he had managed to achieve this extraordinary feat. He tapped the side of his nose and said that he couldn't go into too much detail but it was something to do with 'compression'.

Well yes, that made sense. By compressing darkness you concentrate it, give it dimensions, give it mass. Awesome, but I needed more detail. How was it compressed? By what method?

Two goths looking morosely at a black cat on a moonlit night in Blackpool.

He was reluctant to tell me, which I suppose is quite understandable but after a few seconds playing hardball followed by a few minutes whinging and pleading, he relented. He leaned over to me, put his lips to my ear and said 'Between two bricks."

Well, that was good enough for me. I handed over the cash and was about to open to bottle to inspect my purchase but he quickly laid a hand on my arm and told me to hold fire. I should only open it in complete darkness, he said. Good grief, of course, I thought, slapping my forehead at my stupidity. I rushed home in a frenzy, thundered up to my room, doused the lights and cautiously levered off the lid.

There it was, right in front of me. Through the inky blackness in my room I could clearly see complete darkness. So, it really was possible to isolate and analyse darkness. It was an awesome moment. There it was at last, just lying there, featureless and impenetrable and smelling ever-so-slightly of mango and apricot yoghurt.

And that's when my mother opened the door, wanting to know if I wanted fish fingers for my tea. The light flooded in and my darkness was gone.

Thing is, it really didn't matter. For a moment I had held it in my hands. I had witnessed positive proof that darkness can exist as an entity which can be studied. Now I intend to do just that, as soon as I can get hold of more of the stuff, and thankfully I know just how to do that. To trap darkness, to process it, to compress it and contain it all I need is two bricks. The next time you hear from me it will probably be when I am nominated for a Nobel Prize.

 


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