Scientists May Have Directly Detected Dark Matter for the First Time

Thursday, 16 October 2014 - 11:31AM
Astrophysics
Physics
Thursday, 16 October 2014 - 11:31AM
Scientists May Have Directly Detected Dark Matter for the First Time

Dark matter is one of the most mysterious substances in the universe, and has eluded detection for almost a century. Now, researchers from the University of Leicester may have discovered evidence that the European Space Agency detected dark matter emitted from the Sun.

 

Dark matter is a hypothetical type of matter that doesn't interact with any kind of electromagnetic radiation, and therefore is virtually impossible to observe. Physicists have long theorized its existence in order to account for gravitational effects on normal matter and for the overall structure of the universe. The search for dark matter is one of the most prominent objectives in modern particle physics, as it is thought to make up 85% of the matter in the known universe. 

 

Now, the research team may have found evidence that dark matter streams from the core of the Sun. While analyzing fifteen years' worth of data from a European Space Agency spacecraft, they found that the x-ray levels rose 10% at the boundary of Earth's magnetic field while it faced the sun. Astronomer and team member Andy Read told The Guardian, "Conventional models of the universe failed to explain the effect. Once galaxies, stars and other bright x-ray sources have been filtered out, the intensity of x-rays in space was expected to look the same whenever measurements were taken."

 

When the standard model fell short, the team turned to more "exotic" theories. Dark matter provided the most elegant explanation, if hypothetical particles of dark matter called axions were being continually emitted from the core of the sun and producing x-rays when they came into contact with the Earth's magnetic field. This theory "explain[s] a component of the dark matter that everyone thinks exists," meaning the existence of axions.

 

Christian Beck, physicist at Queen Mary, University of London, agreed that the observed effects could be the result of dark matter streaming from the sun's core. "What's less clear, however, is whether any other explanation of the measured effect can be excluded," said Beck. "A true discovery of dark matter that is convincing for most scientists would require consistent results from several different experiments using different detection methods."

 

If this is a true discovery of dark matter, however, the implications could be enormous. The presence of dark matter helps explain everything from galaxy clusters to the Big Bang hypothesis. Martin Barstow, president of the Royal Astronomical Society, said: "If confirmed, [the study] will be the first direct detection and identification of the elusive dark matter particles and will have a fundamental impact on our theories of the universe."

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