Pushing the Polite Boundaries of Science About Dark Matter

by Nancy Atkinson on September 2, 2008

Hubble and Chandra composite image showing possible dark matter.  Credit: X-ray(NASA/CXC/Stanford/S.Allen); Optical/Lensing(NASA/STScI/UC Santa Barbara/M.Bradac)

Hubble and Chandra composite image showing possible dark matter. Credit: X-ray(NASA/CXC/Stanford/S.Allen); Optical/Lensing(NASA/STScI/UC Santa Barbara/M.Bradac)

Rumors are spinning faster than a neutron star about the possibility that a European satellite mission called PAMELA may have made a direct detection of dark matter, the mysterious particles thought to make up as much of 85% of all matter in the Universe. Word got out in August at a conference about dark matter in Stockholm, Sweden where the PAMELA (Payload for Antimatter Matter Exploration and Light-nuclei Astrophysics) team presented their preliminary findings to a few selected physicists. What information has leaked out says the satellite has detected more positrons than can be explained by known physics and that this excess exactly matches what dark matter particles would produce if they were annihilating each other at the center of the galaxy. But the PAMELA team is not allowing any more information to be made public, until they re-analyze their data and allow other scientists to evaluate and verify the findings. This is good, if not wonderful, in all respects – making sure their findings are peer reviewed before publishing their work and going public. (Does anyone remember the cold fusion debacle?) But in what seems to cross the line of good science — as well pushing the boundaries of what is just plain polite, two other scientists have published an abstract based on what was revealed to them at the conference.

Ever since cosmologists “concocted” dark matter to explain the matter that was obviously missing from the universe’s equation, scientists have speculated, worked, created models and worked some more to determine exactly what dark matter is. Recent findings (see here and here)seem to be bringing us closer to finding this mysterious substance, providing clues to what this stuff might be. The PAMELA data seems to point towards positrons, or anti-electrons.

Marco Cirelli from the CEA near Paris in France and Alessandro Strumia from the Università di Pisa in Italy presented their own analysis of the PAMELA data in this abstract. They say the data agrees with their own model called Minimal Dark Matter in which the particle responsible is called the “Wino.” They do reference their own work but interestingly, many of their references are from talks given at the conference on August 18-22. At one point they note, “The preliminary data points for positron and antiproton fluxes plotted in our figures have been extracted from a photo of the slides taken during the talk, and can thereby slightly differ from the data that the PAMELA collaboration will officially publish.”

Is this just a desire to “publish” something first, or is this real science?

Sources: ArXiv, ArXiv blog, Nature

About 

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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