According to Wikipedia, a journal club is a group of individuals who meet regularly to critically evaluate recent articles in the scientific literature. And of course, the first rule of Journal Club is… don’t talk about Journal Club.
So, without further ado – today’s journal article is about dark matter being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Jee et al A Study of the Dark Core in A520 with Hubble Space Telescope: The Mystery Deepens.
This time, rather than someone suggesting what the next journal club article would be (like that happens), I thought I would pick a topical scientific paper mentioned in one of Universe Today’s fabulously thought-provoking stories and enlarge on that a bit.
This paper by Jee et al was mentioned in Ray Sanders’ excellent Hubble Spots Mysterious Dark Matter ‘Core’ article on 2 March 2012.
So, some might remember the Bullet Cluster – a seemingly clinching proof of dark matter, where two galactic clusters had collided in the past and what we see post-collision is that most of the mass of each cluster has passed straight through and out the other side. The only material remaining at the collision site is a huge jumbled clump of intergalactic gas.
This means that each galactic cluster, that has since moved on, has been stripped of much of its intergalactic gas. But lo and behold the seemingly empty intergalactic space within each of these stripped galactic clusters continues to distort the background field of view (a phenomenon known as weak gravitational lensing).
This seemed strong proof that the intergalactic spaces of each cluster must be filled with gravitationally-inducing, but otherwise invisible, stuff. In other words, dark matter. It makes sense that this dark matter would have moved straight on through the collision site because it is weakly interacting – whereas the gas caught up in the collision was not.
So, a cool finding and almost identical findings were discovered within the cluster collisions MACS J0025.4-1222, Abell 2744 and a couple of others. But now along comes Abell 520 with a completely counter example. Two or more galaxy clusters have collided, most of the visible contents have passed straight through, but back at the collision point is an apparent big clump of invisible stuff creating weak gravitational lensing – i.e. dark matter. It is the region labelled 3 on the figure at page 5 of the article.
This finding requires us to consider that we had naively concluded that the Bullet Cluster’s post-collision appearance was easily interpretable and that its outcome would surely be repeated in any equivalent collision of galaxy clusters.
But in the wake of Abell 520 we now may need to consider that the outcome of a collision between rapidly moving and utterly gargantuan collections of mass is much more complex and unpredictable than we had initially assumed. This doesn’t mean that the dark matter hypothesis has been debunked, it just means that the Bullet Cluster might not have been the clinching proof that we thought it was.
If we subsequently find fifty new Bullet cluster analogues and no more Abell 520 analogues, we might then assume that Abell 520 is just a weird outlier, which can be dismissed as an unrepresentative anomaly. But with only five or six such collision types known, one of which is Abell 520 – we can’t really call it an outlier at the moment.
So… comments? The authors offers six possible scenarios to explain this finding – got a seventh? Did we jump to conclusions with the Bullet Cluster? Could suggestions for an article for the next edition of Journal Club represent a form of negative energy?
Steve Nerlich is a very amateur Australian astronomer, publisher of the Cheap Astronomy website and the weekly Cheap Astronomy Podcasts and one of the team of volunteer explainers at Canberra Deep Space Communications Complex – part of NASA’s Deep Space Network.