Jupiter Missions Could Also Help Search for Dark Matter

In a recent study published in the Journal of High Energy Physics, two researchers from Brown University demonstrated how data from past missions to Jupiter can help scientists examine dark matter, one of the most mysterious phenomena in the universe. The reason past Jupiter missions were chosen is due to the extensive amount of data gathered about the largest planet in the solar system, most notably from the Galileo and Juno orbiters. The elusive nature and composition of dark matter continues to elude scientists, both figuratively and literally, because it does not emit any light. So why do scientists continue to study this mysterious—and completely invisible—phenomena?

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The World’s Most Sensitive Dark Matter Detector has Come Online

Individual contributors have become less and less prominent in scientific fields as the discipline itself has matured. Some individuals still hold the public spotlight for their discoveries, such as Peter Higgs with the Higgs boson, which several other physicists also theorized around the same time he did. However, the actual data that eventually gave Dr. Higgs and François Englert their Nobel prize were collected by the Large Hadron Collider, arguably one of the largest technical projects that took thousands of scientists decades to design, build, and test.  

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A Detailed Simulation of the Universe Creates Structures Very Similar to the Milky Way and its Surroundings

Simulation of dark matter and gas. Credit: Illustris Collaboration (CC BY-SA 4.0)

In their pursuit of understanding cosmic evolution, scientists rely on a two-pronged approach. Using advanced instruments, astronomical surveys attempt to look farther and farther into space (and back in time) to study the earliest periods of the Universe. At the same time, scientists create simulations that attempt to model how the Universe has evolved based on our understanding of physics. When the two match, astrophysicists and cosmologists know they are on the right track!

In recent years, increasingly-detailed simulations have been made using increasingly sophisticated supercomputers, which have yielded increasingly accurate results. Recently, an international team of researchers led by the University of Helsinki conducted the most accurate simulations to date. Known as SIBELIUS-DARK, these simulations accurately predicted the evolution of our corner of the cosmos from the Big Bang to the present day.

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How Dark Matter Could Be Measured in the Solar System

Dark matter has long been a mystery to astronomers, in no small part because it is so hard to measure directly.  Its influence is plain when looking at its gravitational effects on objects such as far away galaxies, but measuring that influence directly has proved much trickier.  But now, a team of scientists thinks they have a way to measure the influence of dark matter directly – all it would require is a specialized probe that sits really far away from Earth for a while.

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Finally, an Explanation for the Cold Spot in the Cosmic Microwave Background

Map of the cosmic microwave background (CMB) sky produced by the Planck satellite. The Cold Spot is shown in the inset, with coordinates and the temperature difference in the scale at the bottom. Credit: ESA/Durham University.

According to our current Cosmological models, the Universe began with a Big Bang roughly 13.8 billion years ago. During the earliest periods, the Universe was permeated by an opaque cloud of hot plasma, preventing atoms from forming. About 380,000 years later, the Universe began to cool and much of the energy generated by the Big Bang converted into light. This afterglow is now visible to astronomers as the Cosmic Microwave Background (CMB), first observed during the 1960s.

One peculiar characteristic about the CMB that attracted a lot of attention was the tiny fluctuations in temperature, which could provide information about the early Universe. In particular, there is a rather large spot in the CMB that is cooler than the surrounding afterglow, known as the CMB Cold Spot. After decades of studying the CMB’s temperature fluctuations, a team of scientists recently confirmed the existence of the largest cold spots in the CMB afterglow – the Eridanus Supervoid – might be the explanation for the CMB Cold Spot that astronomers have been looking for!

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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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Astronomy Jargon 101: Dark Matter

This image shows the galaxy MCS J0416.1–2403, one of six clusters targeted by the Hubble Frontier Fields programme. The blue in this image is a mass map created by using new Hubble observations combined with the magnifying power of a process known as gravitational lensing. In red is the hot gas detected by NASA’s Chandra X-Ray Observatory and shows the location of the gas, dust and stars in the cluster. The matter shown in blue that is separate from the red areas detected by Chandra consists of what is known as dark matter, and which can only be detected directly by gravitational lensing.Credit: ESA/Hubble, NASA, HST Frontier Fields. Acknowledgement: Mathilde Jauzac (Durham University, UK) and Jean-Paul Kneib (École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, Switzerland).

In this series we are exploring the weird and wonderful world of astronomy jargon! You’ll feel mysterious about today’s topic: dark matter!

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Galaxies Have Been Found With no Dark Matter at all

This image shows the sky around the ultra diffuse galaxy NGC 1052-DF2. It was created from images forming part of the Digitized Sky Survey 2. NGC 1052-DF2 is basically invisible in this image. It is located to the southwest of the bright elliptical galaxy NGC 1052, which is dominating the field of view, and east of the bright red star HD 16873. Credit: ESA/Hubble, NASA, Digitized Sky Survey 2 Acknowledgement: Davide de Martin

One of the greatest cosmological mysteries facing astrophysicists today is Dark Matter. Since the 1960s, scientists have postulated that this invisible mass accounts for most of the matter in the Universe. While there are still many unresolved questions about it – i.e., What is it composed of? How do we detect it? What evidence is there beyond indirect detection? – we have managed to learn a few things about it over time.

For example, astrophysicists have observed that Dark Matter played a vital role in the formation of galaxies and is responsible for keeping them gravitationally bound. However, when an international team of astronomers observed the ultra-diffuse galaxy AGC 114905, they found no evidence of Dark Matter at all. If these observations are accurate, this discovery could force scientists to reevaluate their cosmological models and the way we look at the Universe.

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A new Simulation of the Universe Contains 60 Trillion Particles, the Most Ever

Illustris simulation, showing the distribution of dark matter in 350 million by 300,000 light years. Galaxies are shown as high-density white dots (left) and as normal, baryonic matter (right). Credit: Markus Haider/Illustris

Today, the greatest mysteries facing astronomers and cosmologists are the roles gravitational attraction and cosmic expansion play in the evolution of the Universe. To resolve these mysteries, astronomers and cosmologists are taking a two-pronged approach. These consist of directly observing the cosmos to observe these forces at work while attempting to find theoretical resolutions for observed behaviors – such as Dark Matter and Dark Energy.

In between these two approaches, scientists model cosmic evolution with computer simulations to see if observations align with theoretical predictions. The latest of which is AbacusSummit, a simulation suite created by the Flatiron Institute’s Center for Computational Astrophysics (CCA) and the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA). Capable of processing nearly 60 trillion particles, this suite is the largest cosmological simulation ever produced.

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Experiment Finds no Sign of Sterile Neutrinos

Could sterile neutrinos be a fourth kind of neutrino? Credit: IceCube - University of Wisconsin

We don’t know what dark matter is. We do know the characteristics of dark matter, and much of how it behaves, so we know what physical properties dark matter must have, but no known matter has all the necessary characteristics of dark matter. So we’re stumped.

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