Dark matter seems to be almost a thing of science fiction rather than science. It cannot be seen, but it’s thought to make up around 85 percent of all matter in the entire universe. It’s a web that, stretching throughout space, is believed to give the actual cosmos its very structure… and yet, so far, its detection has eluded science. But a European space observatory has found a very unusual signal that astronomers believe may be the very first detection of dark matter.
The recent findings are still seen as very tentative, and will probably take several years to check… but if the current theory to the new findings remain true, the breakthrough would be seen as historic, as it could shape the way we currently understand the universe.
Researchers at Leicester University based their dark matter theory on a signal that they have identified using measurements taken by the XMM-Newton observatory, which belongs to the European Space Agency. They realized that, throughout 15 years of measurements, the intensity of x-rays recorded rose by around 10 percent whenever observing the boundary of Earth’s magnetic field that faces the sun.
Andy Read, an astronomer on the research team, says that any conventional thought fails to explain the phenomenon. He claims that, once galaxies, stars, and other bright sources have been filtered out, the intensity of x-rays taken in space should remain the same, whenever measurements are taken.
After being forced to reject all other theories in more traditional physics to explain the rise in x-ray intensity, researchers explored theories that were more outlandish… and one in particular seemed to answer the question the phenomenon posed: Why were the x-rays intensifying in certain areas?
The researchers believe that theoretical particles of dark matter, called axions, are streaming from the core of the sun and producing x-rays as they hit Earth’s magnetic field.
“If the model is right then it could well be axions that we are seeing and they could explain a component of the dark matter that everyone thinks exists,” Read said. “The variation in background x-rays is solid and really interesting. What could it be down to? Well, we tried all the traditional explanations, but none of those worked, so we went to these more exotic ideas.”
Little is known about dark matter, although NASA’s website does contain a definition of dark matter, although it seems more a description of what dark matter is not, rather than what it actually may be.
“We are much more certain what dark matter is not than we are what it is. First, it is dark, meaning that it is not in the form of stars and planets that we see. Observations show that there is far too little visible matter in the Universe to make up the 27% required by the observations. Second, it is not in the form of dark clouds of normal matter, matter made up of particles called baryons. We know this because we would be able to detect baryonic clouds by their absorption of radiation passing through them. Third, dark matter is not antimatter, because we do not see the unique gamma rays that are produced when antimatter annihilates with matter. Finally, we can rule out large galaxy-sized black holes on the basis of how many gravitational lenses we see. High concentrations of matter bend light passing near them from objects further away, but we do not see enough lensing events to suggest that such objects to make up the required 25% dark matter contribution.”
These new findings could bring the scientific community a lot closer to understanding what dark matter actually is, and its impact on the universe.
For more articles on the mysteries of space, read about how space actually makes noise — and listen to it yourself.
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