A New Way to Prove if Primordial Black Holes Contribute to Dark Matter

The early Universe was a strange place. Early in its history—in the first quintillionth of a second—the entire cosmos was nothing more than a stunningly hot plasma. And, according to researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), this soup of quarks and gluons was accompanied by the formation of weird little primordial black holes (PHBs). It’s entirely possible that these long-vanished PHBs could have been the root of dark matter.

MIT’s David Kaiser and graduate student Elba Alonso-Monsalve suggest that such early super-charged black holes were very likely a new state of matter that we don’t see in the modern cosmos. “Even though these short-lived, exotic creatures are not around today, they could have affected cosmic history in ways that could show up in subtle signals today,” Kaiser said. “Within the idea that all dark matter could be accounted for by black holes, this gives us new things to look for.” That means a new way to search for the origins of dark matter.

Dark matter is mysterious. No one has directly observed it yet. However, its influence on regular “baryonic” matter is detectable. Scientists have many suggestions for what dark matter could be, but until they can observe it, it’s tough to tell what the stuff is, exactly. Black holes could be likely candidates. But the mass of all the observable ones isn’t enough to account for the amount of dark matter in the cosmos. However, there may be a connection to black holes after all.

Black Holes Through Cosmic Time

Most of us are familiar with the idea of at least two types of black holes: stellar-mass and supermassive. There is also a population of intermediate-mass black holes, which are rare. The stellar-mass objects form when massive stars explode as supernovae and collapse to form black holes. These exist throughout many galaxies. The supermassive ones aggregate many millions of solar masses together. They form “hierarchically” from smaller ones and exist in the hearts of galaxies. The intermediate-mass ones probably form hierarchically as well and could be a hidden link between the other two types.

An image based on a supercomputer simulation of the cosmological environment where primordial gas undergoes the direct collapse to a black hole. Credit: Aaron Smith/TACC/UT-Austin.
An image based on a supercomputer simulation of the cosmological environment where primordial gas undergoes the direct collapse to create black holes. Credit: Aaron Smith/TACC/UT-Austin.

Black holes have formed throughout the history of the Universe. That’s why the idea of primordial black holes isn’t too much of a surprise, although they remain elusive. In their very primitive state, they’d be ultradense objects with the mass of an asteroid punched down into something the size of an atom. They probably didn’t last very long—maybe another quintillionth of a second. After formation, they either blinked out of existence or got scattered across the expanding Universe.

So, how could these weird PHBs affect the formation of dark matter if they winked in and out of existence so quickly? That’s where Kaiser and his student’s work come in. They suggest that as the first PHBs scattered, they somehow “tugged” on space-time and changed something that could explain dark matter. That same process could have produced even smaller black holes with a curious property called “color charge.” And, there’s a dark matter connection.

“Color charge” is a property of quarks and gluons, and it ends up gluing them together. Think of it as a “super-charge”. Kaiser and Alonso-Monsalve suggest that some of the very early PHBs had this “supercharge” in the same way as the quarks and gluons had it. If that’s true, then the earliest super-color-charged PHBs would have been an entirely new state of matter. We don’t see them around anymore because they likely evaporated a fraction of a second after they spawned. But, their existence was necessary, particularly to the formation of dark matter.

Even during their short life span, however, the earliest supercharged PHBs could have influenced a key cosmological transition: the time when the first atomic nuclei were forged. Those color-charged black holes could have affected the balance of fusing nuclei. And, they could have done it in a way that astronomers might someday detect with future measurements. Such an observation would point convincingly to primordial black holes as the root of all dark matter today.

What Were Those Early PHBs Made Of?

If those PHBs did exist, what were THEY made of? Unlike other black holes, there’s not much evidence for something like a star or another black hole that “birthed” these early ones. To figure that one out, Alonso-Monsalve and Kaiser did some exploration. They calculated the PHB formation “era” as happening just after the Big Bang. “Typical” microscopic black holes formed within this short “flash of time.” Those would have been as massive as an asteroid and as small as an atom. But, they also found that a tiny population of exponentially smaller black holes came into being. Those had the mass of a rhino and a size much smaller than a single proton.

This process probably started around one second after the Big Bang. That gave all these PBHs plenty of time to disrupt the equilibrium conditions that would have prevailed when the first nuclei began to form from the quark-gluon plasma. The super-charged black holes would have quickly evaporated. That probably happened about the time when the first atomic nuclei began to form. “These objects might have left some exciting observational imprints,” Alonso-Monsalve said. “They could have changed the balance of this versus that, and that’s the kind of thing that one can begin to wonder about.”

From Plasma to PHBs to Dark Matter

The backdrop for the formation of these short-lived black holes? The quark-gluon plasma. And, it should have a distribution of “color charge”. Kaiser and Alonso-Monsalve determined the size of an area in the plasma that could collapse to form a PBH. It turns out there wouldn’t have been much color charge in most typical black holes formed in the moment. That’s because they probably formed by absorbing a huge number of regions that had a mix of charges. Thus, they wouldn’t be “supercharged.”

But the smallest black holes would have been highly color-charged. They would have contained the maximum amount of any type of charge allowed for a black hole. And, by their formation, they could well have produced the tiniest bit of change that led to the formation of dark matter.

For More Information

Exotic Black holes Could be a Byproduct of Dark Matter
Preprint: Primordial Black Holes with QCD Color Charge

3 Replies to “A New Way to Prove if Primordial Black Holes Contribute to Dark Matter”

  1. I’ve often wondered if in the early universe matter and antimatter actually left ashes we now call Dark Matter, and the energy liberated caused expansion. Any thoughts on this?

  2. Unless they can extract some quantitative predictions this idea is less tangible (and less likely) than most dark matter proposals.

    @Bruce: Space has always expanded as far as we know. [“Scale factor (cosmology)”, Wikipedia.] Since the universe is a closed system – all there is – expansion should be adiabatic (spontaneous, not requiring energy).

    The ashes of near perfect matter-antimatter annihilation is the cosmic background radiation, with 10^10 photons for each surviving matter particle. Dark matter is something else, though a thermal “relict” akin to normal matter would suit since their mass energies are roughly the same (5 times more dark matter in mass).

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