The Milky Way’s Smallest, Faintest Satellite Galaxy Found

Hidden in this deep sky image (left) is Uma3/U1, an ultra faint galaxy. It contains fewer than 100 hundred stars, a tiny amount for a galaxy. Credit: CFHT/S. Gwyn (right) / S. Smith (left)

The Milky Way has many satellite galaxies, most notably the Large and Small Magellanic Clouds. They’re both visible to the naked eye from the southern hemisphere. Now astronomers have discovered another satellite that’s the smallest and dimmest one ever detected. It may also be one of the most dark matter-dominated galaxies ever found.

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This New Map of 1.3 Million Quasars Is A Powerful Tool

This figure from the research shows the sky distribution of the new Quaia quasar catalogue in Galactic coordinates and is displayed using a Mollweide projection. The grey region across the center is the Milky Way, a blind spot in the Quaia catalogue. Image Credit: K. Storey-Fisher et al. 2024

Quasars are the brightest objects in the Universe. The most powerful ones are thousands of times more luminous than entire galaxies. They’re the visible part of a supermassive black hole (SMBH) at the center of a galaxy. The intense light comes from gas drawn toward the black hole, emitting light across several wavelengths as it heats up.

But quasars are more than just bright ancient objects. They have something important to show us about the dark matter.

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The Milky Way's Disk is Warped. Is That Because our Dark Matter Halo is Tilted?

Illustration of the Milky Way's warped shape. Credit: ESA/Stefan Payne-Wardenaar

It’s difficult to determine the shape of our galaxy. So difficult that only in the last century did we learn that the Milky Way is just one galaxy among billions. So it’s not surprising that despite all our modern telescopes and spacecraft we are still mapping the shape of our galaxy. And one of the more interesting discoveries is that the Milky Way is warped. One explanation for this is that our galaxy has undergone collisions, but a new study argues that it’s caused by dark matter.

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A Massive Galaxy With Almost No Dark Matter

This is an image of NGC 1277 taken by the Hubble Space Telescope. Credit: ESA/Hubble

According to our predominant cosmological models, Dark Matter accounts for roughly 85% of the mass in the Universe. While ongoing efforts to study this mysterious, invisible mass have yielded no direct evidence, astrophysicists have been able to measure its influence by observing Dark Matter Haloes, gravitational lenses, and the effect of General Relativity on large-scale cosmic structures. And with the help of next-generation missions like the ESA’s Euclid and NASA’s Nancy Grace Roman space telescopes, Dark Matter may not be a mystery for much longer!

And then something like this comes along: a massive galaxy that appears to have little or no Dark Matter! This is precisely what a team of astronomers led by members of the Instituto Astrofisica de Canarias (IAC) noticed when observing NGC 1277. This lenticular galaxy, located 240 million light-years away in the constellation Perseus, is several times more massive than the Milky Way. This is the first time a massive galaxy has been found that doesn’t show signs of Dark Matter, which is a serious challenge to our current cosmological models.

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Gravitational Lensing is Helping to Nail Down Dark Matter

Using the gravitational lensing technique, a team was able to examine how light from distant quasar was affected by intervening small clumps of dark matter. Credit: NASA/ESA/D. Player (STScI)

According to the most widely-accepted cosmological model, the majority of the mass in our Universe (roughly 85%) consists of “Dark Matter.” This elusive, invisible mass is theorized to interact with “normal” (or “visible”) matter through gravity alone and not electromagnetic fields, neither absorbing nor emitting light (hence the name “dark”). The search for this matter is ongoing, with candidate particles including Weakly-Interacting Massive Particles (WIMPs) or ultralight bosons (axions), which are at opposite extremes of the mass scale and behave very differently (in theory).

This matter’s existence is essential for our predominant theories of gravity (General Relativity) and particle physics (The Standard Model) to make sense. Otherwise, we may need to radically rethink our theories on how gravity behaves on the largest of scales (aka. Modified Gravity). However, according to new research led by the University of Hong Kong (HKU), the study of “Einstein Rings” could bring us a step closer to understanding Dark Matter. According to their paper, the way Dark Matter alters the curvature of spacetime leaves signatures that suggest it could be made up of axions!

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Missing Mass? Not on our Watch—Dr. Paul Sutter Explains Dark Matter

Credit: ArsTechnica

Do you have a few minutes to spare and a thirst for knowledge about one of the greater mysteries of the Universe? Then head on over to ArsTechnica and check out the new series they’re releasing titled Edge of Knowledge, starring none other than Dr. Paul Sutter. In what promises to be an enlightening journey, Dr. Sutter will guide viewers through an eight-episode miniseries that explores the mysteries of the cosmos, such as black holes, the future of climate change, the origins of life, and (for their premiere episode) Dark Matter!

As far as astrophysicists and cosmologists are concerned, Dark Matter is one of the most enduring, frustrating, and confusing mysteries ever! Then, one must wonder why scientists are working so tirelessly to track it down? The short answer is: the most widely accepted theories of the Universe don’t make sense without out. The long answer is… it’s both complicated and long! Luckily, Dr. Sutter manages to sum it all up in less than 15 minutes. As an accomplished physicist, he also explains why it is so important that we track Dark Matter down!

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How did Supermassive Black Holes Form? Collapsing Dark Matter Halos can Explain Them

Artist's conception of a supermassive black hole in a galaxy's center. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

We don’t quite understand how the first supermassive black holes formed so quickly in the young universe. So a team of physicists are proposing a radical idea. Instead of forming black holes through the usual death-of-a-massive-start route, instead giant dark matter halos directly collapsed, forming the seeds of the first great black holes.

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New All-Sky Map of the Milky Way’s Galactic Halo

The outer reaches of the Milky Way galaxy are a different place.  Stars are much harder to come by, with most of this “galactic halo” being made up of empty space.  But scientists theorize that there is an abundance of one particular thing in this desolate area – dark matter.  Now, a team from Harvard and the University of Arizona (UA) spent some time studying and modeling one of the galaxy’s nearest neighbors to try to tease out more information about that dark matter, and as a result came up with an all new way to look at the halo itself.

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Nearby Ancient Dwarf Galaxies Have a Surprising Amount of Dark Matter

An artist's impression of the four tails of the Sagittarius Dwarf Galaxy (the orange clump on the left of the image) orbiting the Milky Way. The bright yellow circle to the right of the galaxy's center is our Sun (not to scale). Image credit: Amanda Smith (University of Cambridge)

Around the Milky Way, there are literally dozens of dwarf galaxies that continue to be slowly absorbed into our own. These galaxies are a major source of interest for astronomers because they can teach us a great deal about cosmic evolution, like how smaller galaxies merged over time to create larger structures. Since they are thought to be relics of the very first galaxies in the Universe, they are also akin to “galactic fossils.”

Recently, a team of astrophysicists from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) observed one of the most ancient of these galaxies (Tucana II) and noticed something unexpected. At the edge of the galaxy, they observed stars in a configuration that suggest that Tucana II has an extended Dark Matter halo. These findings imply that the most ancient galaxies in the Universe had more Dark Matter than previously thought.

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Slime Mold Grows the Same as the Large Scale Structure of the Universe

Image of the large-scale structure of the Universe, showing filaments and voids within the cosmic structure. Credit: Millennium Simulation Project. Now, the latest FLAMINGO simulation provide more detail about the evolution of the Universe within these structures.
Image of the large-scale structure of the Universe, showing filaments and voids within the cosmic structure. The latest FLAMINGO simulation provide more detail about the evolution of the Universe. Credit: Millennium Simulation Project

Matter in the Universe is not distributed equally. It’s dominated by super-clusters and the filaments of matter that string them together, surrounded by huge voids. Galaxy super-clusters are at the top of the hierarchy. Inside those is everything else: galaxy groups and clusters, individual galaxies, and solar systems. This hierarchical structure is called the “Cosmic Web.”

But how and why did the Universe take this form?

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