fic: dark matter

I want to reveal one of the greatest mysteries in science to you:

Look at this gif, notice any patterns in the orbits? I’m talking about the speeds. The planets orbiting around the Sun get slower the farther out they go.

Why is this? Kepler’s Third Law of Planetary Motion.

The stars in the Milky Way orbit around the Galactic Center just as our planets do around the Sun. We find that the farther you get from the center of the galaxy… there’s approximately no change in orbital velocity.

Just like that, one of our most well-established tools in astronomy (Kepler’s Third Law) becomes ineffective for some reason.

It’s become apparent to astronomers that when something orbits around a center of mass, it’s orbital speed has a relationship with the distance from the center of mass.

Right now we don’t think most of the mass of the Milky Way is focused in the galactic center, but hidden in darkness surrounding the galaxy on all sides.

What we know is that it’s impossible to see and so far has eluded detection: we’ve started calling this mysterious mass dark matter.

What Is Dark Matter?

There is as yet no answer to this question, but it is becoming increasingly clear what it is not. Detailed observations of the cosmic microwave background with the WMAP satellite show that the dark matter cannot be in the form of normal, baryonic matter, that is, protons and neutrons that compose stars, planets, and interstellar matter. That rules out hot gas, cold gas, brown dwarfs, red dwarfs, white dwarfs, neutron stars and black holes.

Black holes would seem to be the ideal dark matter candidate, and they are indeed very dark. However stellar mass black holes are produced by the collapse of massive stars which are much scarcer than normal stars, which contain at most one-fifth of the mass of dark matter. Also, the processes that would produce enough black holes to explain the dark matter would release a lot of energy and heavy elements; there is no evidence of such a release.

The non-baryonic candidates can be grouped into three broad categories: hot, warm and cold. Hot dark matter refers to particles, such as the known types of neutrinos, which are moving at near the speed of light when the clumps that would form galaxies and clusters of galaxies first began to grow. Cold dark matter refers to particles that were moving slowly when the pre-galactic clumps began to form, and warm dark matter refers to particles with speeds intermediate between hot and cold dark matter.

This classification has observational consequences for the size of clumps that can collapse in the expanding universe. Hot dark matter particles are moving so rapidly that clumps with the mass of a galaxy will quickly disperse. Only clouds with the mass of thousands of galaxies, that is, the size of galaxy clusters, can form. Individual galaxies would form later as the large cluster-sized clouds fragmented, in a top-down process.

In contrast, cold dark matter can form into clumps of galaxy-sized mass or less. Galaxies would form first, and clusters would form as galaxies merge into groups, and groups into clusters in a bottom-up process.

The observations with Chandra show many examples of clusters being constructed by the merger of groups and sub-clusters of galaxies. This and other lines of evidence that galaxies are older than groups and clusters of galaxies strongly support the cold dark matter alternative. The leading candidates for cold dark matter are particles called WIMPs, for Weakly Interacting Massive Particles. WIMPs are not predicted by the so-called Standard Model for elementary particles, but attempts to construct a unified theory of all elementary particles suggest that WIMPs might have been produced in great numbers when the universe was a fraction of a second old.

A typical WIMP is predicted to be at least 100 times as massive as a hydrogen atom. Possible creatures in the zoo of hypothetical WIMPs are neutralinos, gravitinos, and axinos. Other possibilities that have been discussed include sterile neutrinos and Kaluza-Klein excitations related to extra dimensions in the universe.

CWRU Theoretical Physicists Suggest Dark Matter May Be Massive

In a new study, theoretical physicists from Case Western Reserve University suggest that dark matter may be massive and that the Standard Model may account for it.

The physics community has spent three decades searching for and finding no evidence that dark matter is made of tiny exotic particles. Case Western Reserve University theoretical physicists suggest researchers consider looking for candidates more in the ordinary realm and, well, more massive.

Dark matter is unseen matter, that, combined with normal matter, could create the gravity that, among other things, prevents spinning galaxies from flying apart. Physicists calculate that dark matter comprises 27 percent of the universe; normal matter 5 percent.

Instead of WIMPS, weakly interacting massive particles, or axions, which are weakly interacting low-mass particles, dark matter may be made of macroscopic objects, anywhere from a few ounces to the size of a good asteroid, and probably as dense as a neutron star, or the nucleus of an atom, the researchers suggest.

Physics professor Glenn Starkman and David Jacobs, who received his PhD in Physics from CWRU in May and is now a fellow at the University of Cape Town, say published observations provide guidance, limiting where to look. They lay out the possibilities in a paper listed below.

The Macros, as Starkman and Jacobs call them, would not only dwarf WIMPS and axions, but differ in an important way. They could potentially be assembled out of particles in the Standard Model of particle physics instead of requiring new physics to explain their existence.

“We’ve been looking for WIMPs for a long time and haven’t seen them,” Starkman said. “We expected to make WIMPS in the Large Hadron Collider, and we haven’t.”

WIMPS and axions remain possible candidates for dark matter, but there’s reason to search elsewhere, the theorists argue.

“The community had kind of turned away from the idea that dark matter could be made of normal-ish stuff in the late ’80s,” Starkman said. “We ask, was that completely correct and how do we know dark matter isn’t more ordinary stuff— stuff that could be made from quarks and electrons?”

After eliminating most ordinary matter, including failed Jupiters, white dwarfs, neutron stars, stellar black holes, the black holes in centers of galaxies and neutrinos with a lot of mass, as possible candidates, physicists turned their focus on the exotics.

Matter that was somewhere in between ordinary and exotic—relatives of neutron stars or large nuclei—was left on the table, Starkman said. “We say relatives because they probably have a considerable admixture of strange quarks, which are made in accelerators and ordinarily have extremely short lives,” he said.

Although strange quarks are highly unstable, Starkman points out that neutrons are also highly unstable. But in helium, bound with stable protons, neutrons remain stable.

“That opens the possibility that stable strange nuclear matter was made in the early universe and dark matter is nothing more than chunks of strange nuclear matter or other bound states of quarks, or of baryons, which are themselves made of quarks,” he said. Such dark matter would fit the Standard Model.

The Macros would have to be assembled from ordinary and strange quarks or baryons before the strange quarks or baryons decay, and at a temperature above 3.5 trillion degrees Celsius, comparable to the temperature in the center of a massive supernova, Starkman and Jacobs calculated. The quarks would have to be assembled with 90 percent efficiency, leaving just 10 percent to form the protons and neutrons found in the universe today.

The limits of the possible dark matter are as follows:

  • A minimum of 55 grams. If dark matter were smaller, it would have been seen in detectors in Skylab or in tracks found in sheets of mica.
  • A maximum of 1024 (a million billion billion) grams. Above this, the Macros would be so massive they would bend starlight, which has not been seen.
  • The range of 1017 to 1020 grams per centimeter squared should also be eliminated from the search, the theorists say. Dark matter in that range would be massive for gravitational lensing to affect individual photons from gamma ray bursts in ways that have not been seen.

If dark matter is within this allowed range, there are reasons it hasn’t been seen.

  • At the mass of 1018 grams, dark matter Macros would hit the Earth about once every billion years.
  • At lower masses, they would strike the Earth more frequently but might not leave a recognizable record or observable mark.
  • In the range of 109 to 1018, dark matter would collide with the Earth once annually, providing nothing to the underground dark matter detectors in place.