Hubble images reveal new aspect of mysterious dark matter in the universe

The quest for dark matter just got a little more interesting.While stars, planets and other celestial bodies may seem like bright jewels that stand ou...

Posted: Sep 12, 2020 10:21 AM

The quest for dark matter just got a little more interesting.

While stars, planets and other celestial bodies may seem like bright jewels that stand out against the dark void of space, they only make up a small percentage of the universe.

In reality, the elusive and invisible dark matter that provides the universe with its structure accounts for most of the universe's mass.

Scientists know that because of dark matter's gravitational influence on the other things that are visible, like clusters of galaxies. These clusters are some of the largest structures in the universe, and they contain a multitude of individual galaxies.

These formations also contain a lot of dark matter -- not only because it binds them together, but because the individual galaxies they're comprised of contain dark matter, too.

Dark matter can't be seen because it doesn't interact with other particles in space or emit, absorb or reflect light.

If we could see dark matter, it might look like what researchers call the cosmic web -- essentially interconnected filamentary scaffolding where galaxies can form.

Astronomers have searched for these mysterious particles for decades. But the only way dark matter has revealed itself so far is through its gravitational tug.

So, one of the ways astronomers can detect dark matter is through gravitational lensing, in which gravity essentially distorts space. This occurs when the gravity of dark matter in a galaxy cluster acts like a magnifying glass. It warps and magnifies the light of distant background galaxies beyond the cluster.

Now, astronomers have discovered that smaller clumps of dark matter, associated with individual cluster galaxies, were concentrated enough to produce gravitational lensing effects that were 10 times stronger than expected.

Using the Hubble Space Telescope and the European Southern Observatory's Very Large Telescope in Chile, the scientists detected these distortions by studying 11 massive galaxy clusters.

The detail afforded by both telescopes showed small, distorted images of distant galaxies within larger gravitational lensing distortion in the core of each galaxy cluster. The small distortions look like arcs and smears in images taken by the telescopes.

These small aberrations could be created by densely concentrated pockets of dark matter in individual cluster galaxies, the researchers suggested.

This finding surprised astronomers because it differs from their theoretical models about the distribution of dark matter in galaxy clusters.

The study published Friday in the journal Science.

"Galaxy clusters are ideal laboratories to understand if computer simulations of the universe reliably reproduce what we can infer about dark matter and its interplay with luminous matter," said Massimo Meneghetti, lead study author and adjunct professor at the National Institute for Astrophysics -- Observatory of Astrophysics and Space Science of Bologna in Italy, in a statement.

"We have done a lot of careful testing in comparing the simulations and data in this study, and our finding of the mismatch persists. One possible origin for this discrepancy is that we may be missing some key physics in the simulations."

The detail that Hubble can capture allowed the researchers to map out the dark matter present in the clusters. The data also allowed them to estimate the mass of each galaxy, which included the amount of dark matter.

When these maps were compared with simulated galaxy clusters of similar mass and distance, the amount of dark matter didn't match up on the smaller scale -- the dark matter associated with individual cluster galaxies.

Future missions like the Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope, set to launch in the mid-2020s, will use gravitational lensing of large galaxy clusters to find even more distant galaxies. That data can then be used in dark matter models.

"There's a feature of the real universe that we are simply not capturing in our current theoretical models," said Priyamvada Natarajan, senior theorist on the research team and theoretical astrophysicist at Yale University, in a statement.

"This could signal a gap in our current understanding of the nature of dark matter and its properties, as these exquisite data have permitted us to probe the detailed distribution of dark matter on the smallest scales."

New York Coronavirus Cases

County data is updated nightly.

Cases: 1973308

Reported Deaths: 51350
CountyCasesDeaths
Kings2611819909
Queens2604189526
Suffolk1913793303
Nassau1753923102
Bronx1731096365
New York1303844306
Westchester1245352236
Erie805561689
Richmond698671740
Monroe599441033
Orange45583782
Rockland45345941
Onondaga35576660
Dutchess27616433
Albany23409343
Oneida21291497
Niagara17888332
Broome17175348
Saratoga14222160
Ulster12835241
Schenectady12289192
Rensselaer10526136
Putnam1007991
Chautauqua8256132
Chemung7068133
Oswego690990
Ontario676591
Steuben6212141
St. Lawrence613794
Sullivan603268
Cayuga581090
Jefferson540863
Wayne515467
Cattaraugus506880
Genesee5014121
Herkimer4883107
Clinton447232
Madison425785
Tompkins401949
Fulton399786
Livingston394358
Montgomery3842114
Columbia380399
Cortland351560
Warren333756
Tioga333358
Wyoming321751
Allegany314183
Otsego313646
Greene308174
Chenango303173
Washington281355
Orleans271683
Lewis242333
Franklin237512
Delaware211936
Seneca185356
Schoharie152015
Essex148926
Yates109826
Schuyler97913
Hamilton3002
Unassigned184111
Out of NY0216
Rome
Cloudy
46° wxIcon
Hi: 47° Lo: 44°
Feels Like: 43°
Binghamton
Cloudy
44° wxIcon
Hi: 50° Lo: 41°
Feels Like: 42°
Rome
Cloudy
46° wxIcon
Hi: 50° Lo: 43°
Feels Like: 43°
Rome
Cloudy
46° wxIcon
Hi: 48° Lo: 41°
Feels Like: 43°
WKTV Radar
WKTV Temperatures
WKTV Severe Weather
Saluting Those Who Are Proud 2 Serve
Enter the Rock Your Body Giveaway from Alivana Aesthetics
Looking for work or looking to hire? Check out the WKTV Job Fair!