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Pushing the Polite Boundaries of Science About Dark Matter

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.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Skeptic Tim September 2, 2008, 4:34 PM

    Hi Nancy. I’ve recently encountered this paper: arXiv:0808.3867v1 [astro-ph] 28 Aug 2008 “Minimal Dark Matter predictions and the PAMELA positron excess” where their abstract reads “We present Minimal Dark Matter and its univocal predictions for Dark Matter observables. During the idm08 conference, PAMELA presented preliminary results showing an anomaly in the positron fraction: we find a good agreement, with a modest astrophysical boost factor.”

    It seems to present results similar (perhaps identical) to those that you describe. While not yet definitive, the results presented here are quite convincing!

  • john September 2, 2008, 6:57 PM

    I suspect the urge to publish first. The other question is why call a parlicle “Wino” in some parts of the english speaking world that word is a synonym for an “inebriate”. Are they having us on?

  • Will W. September 2, 2008, 8:30 PM

    Maybe “Wino” is pronounced “Weeno”, like neutrino. Like as in “we know” about you now… Kind of clever, but will be misunderstood, but maybe this is the perfect name for the dark matter particle.
    +W

  • jerry September 2, 2008, 9:35 PM

    They have clearly credited PAMELA; and I don’t see why PAMELA scientists were waiting for peer review, as opposed to posting at least preliminary results in archives shortly after the conference. That is what archives is for: It allows a claim to be laid to a discovery while waiting for review; which can take months to years.
    Archives can be annotated as to whether or not the paper is scheduled for publishing; or still in the review process.
    While it is customary to allow the principles first cut at a data set (and extremely crass to lift data from a chart); I don’t see that this will reduce or dissuade credit from the Pamela team…assuming they eventually do publish.

    The real problem is that the review process is too slow.

  • ed September 2, 2008, 9:59 PM

    AND THAT IS WHY! you DO NOT SHOW the main premises of your paper before publishing.

    Whatever scum scientist that tried to publish a mere abstract based on pictures of another (but hard working) peer scientist should be revoked of his PhD.
    What a shame. No ethics at all. Shame on you dirty scientist.

  • ed September 2, 2008, 10:12 PM

    Oh sorry,

    and I can tell you why M. Cirelli did it.

    Whatever experimental confirmation of “Dark Matter” will eventually lead to a nobel prize.
    Simply because every paper published later on will have to cite him as first reference; meaning that his paper will formally open a new chapter in physics that is that Dark matter physics.

    I despise unethical scientists. As a young scientist myself I just feel shame for that kind of behavior.

  • Particle Guy September 3, 2008, 12:13 AM

    Wino is the supersymmetric partner to the W boson carrying the weak force, which changes neutrons to protons and back in some nuclear decays. Like with photons having “photino” as supersymmetric partners.

    I hope the dark matter turns out to be something else, because quantum physicists have been talking about supersymmetry for decades. It’ll be more fun to see that idea (and superstrings with it) fall apart and watch them scratch their heads and wonder about it all over again.

  • JamesB September 3, 2008, 12:15 AM

    So, we have no idea what dark matter is (or if it even exists) BUT we know “exactly” how many positrons are produced if the particles were annihilating each other?

    Not surprising they wanted to wait to publish, there’s a LOT of questions they’ll need to have answers for to try and make this make any sense! I, for one, look forward to a complete accounting of the data involved, it could be a real eye opener.

    I think the scientists jumping the gun were after the glory of a “first kill” in a effort to get their theory out to science community without any competing theories to get in it’s way.

  • Prime September 3, 2008, 8:08 AM

    Plasma, often called the 4th state of matter, and makes itself known in many temperature ranges, and electrical conditions in gaseous bodies. thruout the Universe.

    Dark matter is clearly just another concoction of the gravity only Universe, by astrophysicists who have never had a course, or much less studied plasma electrodynamics.

    Prime

  • Don Alexander September 3, 2008, 1:39 AM

    @Nancy: You write: “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.”

    If I understand this correctly, you seem to be implying the positrons ARE the dark matter. Whoops. Positrons, while being antimatter, are still “baryonic” and thus “normal” matter.
    And you state correctly otherwise that PAMELA seems to have measured the excess positron flux from DM decay – the DM are other particles.

    @jerry, ed: I concur with jerry: They cite the PAMELA team, and while it’s a bit bold to use data excerpted from a photo (!), they do not claim they disovered DM or so – they just use the observations to have a look at their pet theoretical model. In the long run, especially if the PAMELA results should appear in Nature or Science, this paper will be forgotten. And, no, you don’t need to cite them. So cool down, ed. Many people show preliminary results at conferences, and you don’t need to sign non-disclosure agreements when attending (although there IS a discussion on this in Germany right now for conferences in medicine where journalists might raise the hope of patients concerning therapies that have not yet been put through clinical trials).

    @Particle Guy: Almost yes. For Neutron -> Proton (inverse beta decay) you need something like electron capture, not only a W. Secondly, one should add that all names of supersymmetric partners of Bosons are formed via the -ino ending, so the supersymmetric partner of a Z is a Zino, of a Gluon a Gluino etc. The Wino is just a funny coincidence.

    Final point: I thought at first UT was REALLY quick and was talking about this paper:

    http://arxiv.org/abs/0809.0162

    So, as you can see, the guys mentioned in this article are not the only ones…

  • Fenring September 3, 2008, 3:11 AM

    The way they think it works is that dark matter particles occasionally annihilate creating a high energy gamma ray which can, by interaction with other particles, create the electron – positron pair. PAMELA detects positrons and if their energy level is of certain value then it might be a by product of dark matter particles annihilation. Unfortunately PAMELA cannot detect the direction from which positrons came, so even if the observed positrons are indicative of dark matter annihilation it is still difficult to say that it was actually dark matter and not something else.

  • Aodhhan September 3, 2008, 8:07 AM

    Well stated Don A.

    Doing research, putting it down on paper and presenting it at a conference does not mean it is the be all–end all of what the study was about. Many research papers are released every day about many different things. Think of it as constant situational awareness on what everyone is doing. It shouldn’t be compared with research which is published and accepted.

    Because the standard model right now is pretty much an incomplete puzzle, I don’t think you’ll find anyone brave enough to attempt to convince a publisher they have DM nailed down; at least until their research has been thoroughly through the wringer.

    Is it possible some people are working to get their quantum physics research teams more visibility with the upcoming LHC and its hopeful findings? Big time… YES.

    While the “Cold Fusion” publishing created a bit of a black eye; it also provided needed visibility which caused the politicians in Washington D.C. to throw more money into fusion research. Not to mention the fact, fusion (He-3 stores) is first and foremost the reason most countries are trying to get to the moon ASAP.

    Finally… I’m with Particle Guy; when it comes to chaos and the current standard model; that we don’t find the Higgs Boson etc. I think a total revolution would be a good thing for science. It will cause us to be more inventive than ever before.

  • Sili September 3, 2008, 10:53 AM

    Which, of course, you have?

    And how, pray tell, does one differentiate the dark plasma from the glowing plasma (see Bullet Cluster and cousin). And why, oh why doesn’t the plasma heat up on collision?

    :rolls eyes: why do I even bother? Feel free to delete this along with troll.

  • Jon Hanford September 3, 2008, 11:32 AM

    @ Dan, thanks for the clarification of several points mentioned in the article. Also, thanks for the link to the PAMELA paper posted at the arXiv site. Both papers present tantalizing data with regards to DM signatures from the MWG nuclear region. I look forward to a thoughtfully crafted, peer-reviewed paper on the implications of the PAMELA data. No need at this time to any rush to DM speculations. Also, thanks to Nancy & other posters for relevant info about this still speculative issue.

  • Al Hall September 3, 2008, 3:46 PM

    Some of you posters make some pretty convincing ‘sounding’ arguments. I half agree with Prime, though.
    When ever I consider the ‘effects’ of DM – and DE, might I add – I always come back to gravity. I am convinced that we still don’t know as much about gravity as we think we do. Granted, I believe that for one force (entity) to have an affect on another, there must be some kind of physical interaction, apparently at the quantum level (or smaller). I suppose that we could call this interaction “Dark Matter”. I think most of us are looking in wrong direction, looking at the wrong thing. Yes, I suppose that one day DM/DE could be proven… But I think their definitions will change. In my humble opinion, without citing abstracts (or looking for any), it will all come back to gravity.. And we will start looking for the ‘sources’ of it. But hey, it should at least get us a step closer.. It better!! :-)
    Just my two cents worth..

  • Mr. Obvious September 3, 2008, 6:18 PM

    If anything, plasma should be considered the primary state of matter, since it is the dominate form of matter in the universe.
    I don’t understand exactly what you are getting at by placing dark matter, plasma and the weakest force all together in one subject. They are clearly separate; so if you could please explain yourself a bit more.

  • Mr. Obvious September 3, 2008, 6:22 PM

    Saying dark matter is another concoction of gravity, is like stating anything with mass is a concoction of gravity. Clearly, all matter is not one of the four forces.

    Why not say a planet, sun, or black hole is a concoction of gravity.

    To state something so crazy, you should at least explain yourself a bit better.

  • Mr. Obvious September 3, 2008, 6:39 PM

    Al and Prime,
    When considering herresay against Mr. Newton (concerning gravity) this is really the wrong item; this subject fits better with dark energy… not dark matter. However you are not alone in mistaking the differences between dark matter and dark energy.

    Dark energy works within the cosmilogical standard model, which right now is pretty solid; although there are those who don’t totally buy into it (bless them).

    Dark matter falls more (perhaps best) into the the standard model which covers sub-atomic particles (2 totally different SM’s); which as most people know is a puzzle with many pieces missing; along with the fact most of it makes little sense in comparison to the B I G P I C T U R E.

    If the LHC doesn’t recreate the big bang, black holes or whatever these crazy people can think of… and send us into oblivion, we may finally begin to find some of these pieces, or figure out we need to trash it and go down to the nearest Wal-Mart and purchase a new game.

  • Al Hall September 3, 2008, 9:52 PM

    Mr. Obvious –
    I’m sorry…… What is your response to my post?…. May we speak outside of the classroom and use our own brains (independent thoughts)?.. I’m not interested in what your professor thinks. I’ve heard that already. You don’t have your own thoughts, or have you just joined the herd and taken the ‘party line’? I want the answer to the “B I G P I C T U R E”.. I do….. Maybe some of us should stop looking at “models” and start using our brains….. Don’t let people influence…, contaminate our thoughts…. Maybe some of us should start from “zero” and come up with our own conclusions.. and see if we come up with the same conclusions..
    As for the LHC, I hope that it will come up with something profound, and I really hope it does…. I really do…….. But I have a gut feeling….. It won’t….. They will talk about the “possible” and “maybe” for probably 20 years, but……… anyway…

  • Mr. Obvious September 4, 2008, 5:43 AM

    Al Hall….okay lets do it your way; since apparently you believe if anyone learns from someone else or consults models they are wrong. I’ll give you a chance to show your mettle and brains. I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt to explain it to us.

    You state: “for one force (entity) to have an affect on another, there must be some kind of physical interaction, apparently at the quantum level (or smaller).”

    Are you saying every entity is a force? The “affect on another”, is it another force or another entity? Perhaps you should define entity; Explain why “FORCE” is being used here…. oh yeah… Which force(s) do you mean by the way? Perhaps you have your own definitions youve come up with on your own. Since it would be a sin for you to learn what it is from someone else.

    You also state we are looking in the wrong place/direction, but you dont clarify. What direction do you want people to look? If someone asks you to find an airplane flying through the air, do you take a submarine below the surface of the ocean? You point out a reasonable direction for us to look, and I’ll look for you. You need to be a bit more specific; perhaps really understand what you are saying.

    I’ll finish up with something which had me laughing for a good 2 minutes. You stated, “…there must be some kind of physical interaction, apparently at the quantum level (or smaller). I suppose that we could call this interaction “Dark Matter”.

    Are you saying that we classify anything we can’t physically see which has quantum activity dark matter?; or that dark matter is simply quantum level interactions? For things smaller than the quantum level… do you have your own physics here? Since you obviously dont follow the known models.

    Please enlighten us with your uncontaminated thoughts and ideas on these subjects and show us where we have gone wrong.

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