Are We Close to Finding Dark Matter?

by Nancy Atkinson on November 6, 2008

Dark Matter Halo.  Credit: Virgo Consortium
Scientists say he search for the mysterious substance which makes up most of the Universe could soon be at an end. A massive computer simulation was used to show the evolution of a galaxy like the Milky Way, and analysts were able to “see” gamma-rays given off by dark matter. Dark matter is believed to account for 85 per cent of the Universe’s mass but has remained invisible to telescopes since scientists inferred its existence from its gravitational effects more than 75 years ago. If the computations are correct, the findings could help NASA’s Fermi Telescope to search for the dark matter and open a new chapter in our understanding of the Universe.

The consortium of scientists, called Virgo Consortium looked at dark matter halos – structures surrounding galaxies – which contain a trillion times the mass of the Sun. The simulations showed how the galaxy’s halo grew through a series of violent collisions and mergers between much smaller clumps of dark matter that emerged from the Big Bang.

The researchers found that gamma-rays produced when particles collided in areas of high dark matter density could be most easily detectable in regions of the Milky Way lying close to the Sun in the general direction of the galaxy’s centre.

They suggest the Fermi Telescope should search in this part of the galaxy where they predict that gamma-rays from dark matter should glow in “a smoothly varying and characteristic pattern”.

If Fermi does detect the predicted emission from the Milky Way’s smooth inner halo the Virgo team believes it might be able to see otherwise invisible clumps of dark matter lying very close to the Sun.

The Virgo research involved scientists from the Max Planck Institute for Astrophysics in Germany, The Institute for Computational Cosmology at Durham University, UK, the University of Victoria in Canada, the University of Massachusetts, USA, and the University of Groningen in the Netherlands.

Professor Carlos Frenk, Director of the Institute for Computational Cosmology, at Durham University, said: “Solving the dark matter riddle will be one of the greatest scientific achievements of our time.

“The search for dark matter has dominated cosmology for many decades. It may soon come to an end.”

Sources: EurekAlert, Virgo Consortium


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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