Hubble Shows Dark Matter Might Be Stranger Than We Thought

A new study using the Hubble Space Telescope shows that we understand Dark Matter less than before. Hypothesized matter is thought to exist based on the mass of galaxies, but has never been directly observed. Now, new research suggests that our predictions about how the dark matter of space-time may be affected may be way off.

The Hubble researchers used a technique called gravitational lensing, in which the close-up objects act like magnifying glass when viewing distant objects from close to the way the light is tilted by the objects’ gravity. This allows them to spot areas that possibly contain dark matter, which can be seen affecting space-time distortion, even if it cannot be seen directly.

What surprised the researchers was that the very small amount of dark matter in the bunches produced a gravitational lensing effect, which was 10 times stronger than they expected.

This suggests that something is missing from our understanding of Dark Matter. “There is a feature of the real universe that we are not capturing in our current theoretical model,” Priyamvada Natarajan of Yale University said in a statement. “This may indicate a difference in our current understanding of the nature of dark matter and its properties, as these exquisite data have allowed us to examine the broadest distribution of dark matter at the smallest scale.”

Hubble shades light on small-scale concentrations of dark matter
This NASA / ESA Hubble Space Telescope image shows the massive galaxy cluster MACSJ 1206. Embedded within the cluster are distorted images of distant background galaxies, seen as arcs and smeared features. Overlaid on the image are small-scale concentrations of dark matter (blue represent the impression of this artist). NASA, ESA, G. Caminha (University of Groningen), m. Menegaty (Observatory of Astrophysics and Space Science of Bologna), p. Natarajan (Yale University), CLT team and M. Cornmasser (ESA / Hubble)

In this artist impression of the cluster MACSJ 1206, you can see distorted galaxies in the background that appear as smears. Large smears are prone to deformations due to the gravitational lens of the clusters, but there are also small deformations near the center of the clusters, which researchers believe are due to the presence of dark matter. This data was used to reduce the potential location of dark matter clots, which have been added by an ensemble in blue.

Using a combination of the Hubble and Very Large Telescopes, astronomers can identify galaxies and estimate their mass, which indicates how much dark matter each galaxy is likely to contain.

“Galaxy clusters are ideal laboratories in which numerical simulations of the currently available universe reproduce well that we can obtain from gravitational lensing,” the statement said.

This means that more work needs to be done to really understand what Dark Matter is and how it interacts with galaxy clusters. “We have tested the data a lot in this study, and we are sure that this mismatch is an indication that some physical components are missing from either simulation or our understanding of nature,” Menegaty said.

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