Clash of Clusters Separates Dark Matter From Ordinary Matter

by Nancy Atkinson on August 27, 2008

Credit: X-ray(NASA/CXC/Stanford/S.Allen); Optical/Lensing(NASA/STScI/UC Santa Barbara/M.Bradac)

Credit: X-ray(NASA/CXC/Stanford/S.Allen); Optical/Lensing(NASA/STScI/UC Santa Barbara/M.Bradac)

A powerful collision of galaxy clusters captured by NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope and Chandra X-ray Observatory provides evidence for dark matter and insight into its properties. Observations of the cluster known as MACS J0025.4-1222 indicate that a titanic collision has separated dark matter from ordinary matter. The images also provide an independent confirmation of a similar effect detected previously in a region called the Bullet Cluster. Like the Bullet Cluster, this newly studied cluster shows a clear separation between dark and ordinary matter.

MACS J0025 formed after an enormously energetic collision between two large clusters. Using visible-light images from Hubble, the team was able to infer the distribution of the total mass — dark and ordinary matter. Hubble was used to map the dark matter (colored in blue) using a technique known as gravitational lensing. The Chandra data enabled the astronomers to accurately map the position of the ordinary matter, mostly in the form of hot gas, which glows brightly in X-rays (pink).

As the two clusters that formed MACS J0025 (each almost a whopping quadrillion times the mass of the Sun) merged at speeds of millions of miles per hour, the hot gas in the two clusters collided and slowed down, but the dark matter passed right through the smashup. The separation between the material shown in pink and blue therefore provides observational evidence for dark matter and supports the view that dark-matter particles interact with each other only very weakly or not at all, apart from the pull of gravity.

On the Chandra website, there are two animations, one that shows the different views of this cluster viewed by the different observatories, and another depicting how the galaxies may have collided.

Bullet Cluster.  Credit:  NASA/CXC/CfA/STScI

Bullet Cluster. Credit: NASA/CXC/CfA/STScI

These new results show that the Bullet Cluster is not an anomalous case and helps answers questions about how dark matter interacts with itself.

Sources: HubbleSite, Chandra


Nancy Atkinson is Universe Today's Senior Editor. She also works with Astronomy Cast, and is a NASA/JPL Solar System Ambassador.

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