Galactoseismology: Galaxy Quake Monitors Look For Dark Matter While Study Cosmic ‘Seismic’ Waves

The hunt for dark matter may be narrowing down as one astronomer outlines how galaxy “quakes” or ripples could help locate dark matter throughout our galaxy and beyond. Galactoseismology is a relatively new form of astronomy that focuses on studying the ripples in our galaxy to look for invisible satellite galaxies. The seismologists of our galaxy are looking at these ripples caused by seismic-like waves that move throughout our galaxy acting as a giant quake.

The field of galactoseismology was pioneered by astronomer and galactic seismologist Dr. Sukanya Chakrabarti. The pioneering astronomer from the Rochester Institute of Technology recently spoke about her findings. The University of Berkley reports that Chakrabarti reported some new findings at the American Astronomical Society meeting in Kissimmee, Florida, on January 7, 2016.

During this meeting, the astronomer discussed galactic quakes and how they could be used to identify “invisible” neighboring Milky Way galaxies, as well as dark matter. It was noted that some of Milky Way’s neighboring galaxies are “invisible” simply because they are hidden by dust. However, others, according to Dr. Chakrabarti, are invisible because they are composed of dark matter.

Sukanya Chakrabarti
Astronomers have found evidence that a tiny galaxy skimmed past the Milky Way a few hundred million years ago, creating enormous seismic ripples in the outer gas of our galaxy. The ripples are illustrated in the image on the left. (Image via Sukanya Chkrabarti)

The galactoseismologist notes that with an estimated 85 percent of the universe made up of dark matter, much of the universe is invisible to us until we can find a way to actually identify the dark matter itself. This is where the new branch of galactoseismology can come into play.

“While some of the Milky Way’s unseen satellite galaxies are hidden from view by dust, many are invisible because they’re composed mostly of dark matter, a so-far mysterious substance that dominates the matter in the universe: 85 percent of all matter in the universe is dark matter. Where it concentrates, normal matter – mostly gas – congregates and condenses into stars and galaxies that can be seen.”

If the galaxies that we can see are only a small subset of the galaxies present in the universe, what can astronomers do to map out the “invisible” galaxies made of dark matter? Dr. Chakrabarti says that by studying the ripples in the galaxy we may gain a better understanding of dark matter looking for the effects of these dark matter galaxies on the gas distribution in the galaxy that we can see.

This can be done by utilizing the progress in the galactoseismology field in which disturbances in a gas disk are noted.

“We have made significant progress into this new field of galactoseismology, whereby you can infer the dark matter content of dwarf galaxies, where they are, as well as properties of the interior of galaxies by looking at observable disturbances in the gas disk.”

Though the study of galactic waves as their own field of study is new, scientists have long been studying strange waves present in the outer reaches of the Milky Way. Fortunately, it seems that Dr. Chakrabarti has finally given meaning to these strange waves and will be able to put the new findings to use as astronomers look for more effective ways to hunt down dark matter and uncover its secrets.

What do you think about Dr. Chakrabarti’s new field of galactoseismology? Did you know that seismic-like activity took place in space just as it does here on Earth? Do you agree that the study of galactic ripples could lead to uncovering more information about the elusive dark matter that is hypothesized to make up 85 percent of our universe?

[Image via AP/NASA]