A surprising new discovery has enabled astronomers to shed more light on the nature of the mysterious dark matter. For the first time in history, dark matter has been observed interacting with other dark matter in a galaxy cluster some 1.4 billion light-years away from Earth.
What exactly is dark matter?
This question remains one of the most profoundly confusing in contemporary astrophysics, and an unsolved one. Although we don’t exactly know what dark matter is, we do know that it is everywhere. We also know that it comprises 27 percent of the known Universe. Furthermore, it makes up 85 percent of the total matter in the cosmos.
Dark matter does not emit or absorb light or any other electromagnetic radiation, and therefore, it is impossible to see with ordinary telescopes. Astronomers use a technique, known as gravitational lensing, to detect its presence.
Numerous studies have shown that the dark matter hardly interacts with anything, including itself, and in cases of collisions of galaxy clusters, it has been known to pass right through. However, the latest discovery suggests that dark matter does, in fact, interact with itself through forces other than gravity.
A team of researchers, led by Dr. Richard Massey of Durham University, observed four colliding galaxies within the galaxy cluster Abell 3827 and noted that a clump of dark matter lagged behind its associated galaxy. This has been attributed to friction created during the collision.
While explaining the new findings, Dr. Massey said, “We looked at a galaxy that’s moving through a big soup of dark matter, and sure enough we’ve seen that dark matter has ended up — for whatever reason — in a different place.”
The discovery of dark matter interacting with itself has important implications on the study of the enigmatic material. According to Dr. Massey, “In our previous work we said, wow, dark matter interacts very little with anything. In this new study we’re saying, okay, so it’s less than point five, but not zero.”
Although this may seem inconsequential, the explanation of this slight interaction will require exotic physics, beyond the current theory of physics known as the Standard Model.
“We used to think that dark matter just sits around, minding its own business, except for its gravitational pull,” said Dr. Massey. “But if dark matter were being slowed down during this collision, it could be the first evidence for rich physics in the dark sector — the hidden Universe all around us.”
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