Skip to comments.Has Dark Matter Gone Missing?
Posted on 04/19/2012 9:54:03 PM PDT by neverdem
If a new study is true, then the search for dark matter just got a lot weirder. Our little corner of the Milky Way contains no observable concentration of the mysterious stuff whose gravity binds the galaxy, claims one team of astronomers. That finding would present a major problem for models of how galaxies form and may undermine the whole notion of dark matter, the researchers claim. But some scientists doubt the reliability of the team's method for measuring the elusive substance.
"This is not just some piddling little detail," says Frederic Hessman, an astronomer at the University of Göttingen in Germany who was not involved in the work. "If this is right, it turns everything totally upside-down." But that's a big if, says Julio Navarro, an astrophysicist at the University of Victoria in Canada: "The argument is provocative, but it remains inconclusive, in my opinion."
According to standard cosmology, we should be swimming in dark matter. Measurements of the afterglow of the big bang—the so-called cosmic microwave background—and of the distribution of the galaxies suggest that 85% of all matter in the universe is dark matter. What's more, decades of astronomical observations show that the stars within galaxies swirl about faster than they could if only the gravity of the others stars were holding them in. In fact, the speed with which the sun goes around the center of our galaxy suggests that dark matter ought to be about as abundant as ordinary matter at our distance from the galactic center, about 27,000 light-years.
But that's not what Christian Moni Bidin, an astronomer at the University of Concepción in Chile, and colleagues find. Using data gathered with several telescopes, they studied old stars called red giants in a cylindrical region a couple of light-years wide and extending 13,000 light-years above the plane of the galaxy. Treating the stars a bit like atoms in a gas, researchers assumed that they were trapped in the gravitational "well" of the galaxy. So by studying distributions of the stars' speeds in three dimensions, they could deduce the well's shape and hence the total distribution of mass from both dark and ordinary matter along the cylinder. Subtracting the distribution of ordinary matter as determined from star counts would then reveal the distribution of dark matter.
When Moni Bidin and colleagues did the analysis, however, they found that no dark matter was needed to explain the stars' speeds. The researchers had expected to detect a complicated mass distribution with a contribution from the galaxy's disk of stars and gas and the presumably spherical "halo" of dark matter surrounding the disk. Instead, they found that the disk alone neatly explained their data(PDF FReebie), as they report in a paper in press at The Astrophysical Journal.
The data don't disprove the existence of dark matter, Moni Bidin is quick to say. Astrophysicists still need the stuff to explain the speed of the stars in the galaxy. However, the data do suggest that there isn't any dark matter in our neck of the woods. "We're not saying that there isn't any dark matter," Moni Bidin says. "We're just saying that there isn't any dark matter here."
But that could lead to a major problem with the whole idea of dark matter. For example, one way to explain why there is no dark matter 27,000 light-years from the center of the Milky Way would be to assume it's all in one tall cigar-shaped lump that sticks through the center of the galaxy. But simulations show that such a shape for the halo is unlikely, Moni Bidin says.
Another possibility is that dark matter is made not of "cold," massive particles moving very slowly, but rather of "warm," lightweight particles moving much faster. In that case, the galactic halo would be larger and more uniform, producing an even and therefore undetectable background, Hessman says. But that inference would fly in the face of standard cosmology, which assumes that galaxies start to form as cold dark matter starts to condense in massive clumps. "Basically," Hessman says, "the cosmologists should say, 'Oh my God!' because you're taking away the one thing that makes everything work and they're going to have to go back to square one."
Or not. The new result may say more about the method than the distribution of dark matter, Navarro says. To get that distribution, at each position in space Moni Bidin and colleagues must subtract one large quantity (the amount of ordinary matter) from another large quantity (the amount of total mass) to get a small quantity. That process is likely to suffer from large uncertainties, Navarro says. "I applaud them for trying," he says. "I just don't think this method will ever give a conclusive answer." Moni Bidin says the method is robust and that larger surveys to come will pin down the dark matter distribution more precisely.
Dark matter only tries to explain why things in the
universe doesn’t work the way our theories explain things.
Obviously our theories about formation and maintenance of
our universe may be flawed. Or our understanding of matter
for that matter. NO pun intended.
Always another theory.
It's missing the same way the aether and phlogiston are missing
That was so well put. Thank you. You must feel like a heretical lunatic sometimes, but that is the obvious answer. We are in a period of epic cosmological error. They will laugh at us in 100 years.
No, it was never there in the first place and a lot of top physicists say so. Because the Big Bang never happened.
“It’s missing the same way the aether and phlogiston are missing”
And phlogiston was pretty close to oxidation.
But Dark Matter never existed in the first place.
“It’s missing the same way the aether and phlogiston are missing”
-OR- can Dark Matter be Honkified..
Do I recall correctly that Descartes came up with a grand theory of vortices, which did not pan out? These overarching theories always seem to stumple on the lack of supporting evidence. Maybe wait awhile. The Hubbell and its successors may bring enough data that we can build a theory on, Right now, we might as well assume that angels push things around.That way we don;t have to worry about predictions. Just say, Que sera, sera,
Where did they have it last?
OR.... that physics works differently on the scales we are trying to understand.
My guess is that the need for dark matter to explain certain cosmology was due to a poor estimate of the amount of matter in galaxies that cannot be seen or detected by us. It’s not invisible, it just isn’t lit up, and it’s to small.
We used to think that there were few Earthlike planets or systems. Now we are finding there are a multitude. We now know that our solar system has an inner ring of junk, and debris scattered around the periphery. Would beings from another galaxy be able to detect this ‘matter’?
Probably Not. Doesn’t mean it’s invisible, or mysterious.
I also suspect that a multitude of stars, such as at the galaxy center, exhibit a pull of gravity based on the size of the ‘ball’, which is higher than the collective ‘gravity’ of each star.
Perhaps there are powers in higher dimensions, un-perceivable from our level, which hold the universe together.
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