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Apr 03

Dwarf Galaxies Provide New Insights On Dark Matter

There’s more to the cosmos than meets the eye. About 80 percent of the matter in the universe is invisible to telescopes, yet its gravitational influence is manifest in the orbital speeds of stars around galaxies and in the motions of clusters of galaxies. Yet, despite decades of effort, no one knows what this “dark matter” really is. Many scientists think it’s likely that the mystery will be solved with the discovery of new kinds of subatomic particles, types necessarily different from those composing atoms of the ordinary matter all around us. The search to detect and identify these particles is underway in experiments both around the globe and above it.

Scientists working with data from NASA’s Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope have looked for signals from some of these hypothetical particles by zeroing in on 10 small, faint galaxies that orbit our own. Although no signals have been detected, a novel analysis technique applied to two years of data from the observatory’s Large Area Telescope (LAT) has essentially eliminated these particle candidates for the first time.

“In effect, the Fermi LAT analysis compresses the theoretical box where these particles can hide,” said Jennifer Siegal-Gaskins, a physicist at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, Calif., and a member of the Fermi LAT Collaboration.

WIMPs, or Weakly Interacting Massive Particles, represent a favored class of dark matter candidates. Some WIMPs may mutually annihilate when pairs of them interact, a process expected to produce gamma rays — the most energetic form of light — that the LAT is designed to detect.

“One of the best places to look for these faint gamma-ray signals is in dwarf spheroidal galaxies, small satellites of our own Milky Way galaxy that we know possess large amounts of dark matter,” Siegal-Gaskins explained. “From an astrophysical perspective, these are downright boring systems, with little gas or star formation and no objects like pulsars or supernova remnants that emit gamma rays.”

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