Has Dark Matter Finally Been Revealed?
Dark matter is one of the biggest mysteries within science today. The conundrum is: how do we explain the gravitational structure of the universe (galaxies, super clusters etc) when the possible answer cannot currently be detected? Well, a team lead by Professor George Fraser from the University of Leicester might have the solution, as they have revealed for the first time tantalising glimpses of dark matter using already obtained historical data.
Like many scientific breakthroughs in history, when current technology is inadequate, insights are usually revealed by monitoring interaction events—in this particular case, interactions between axions, magnetic fields and their subsequent by-products have been isolated for study.
Axions are weakly interacting hypothetical particles first postulated to explain the ‘strong CP problem’ within quantum chromodynamics. It is believed that if axions are proved to be real they could exist in sufficient quantities to explain the invisible (i.e. dark) mass of the Universe (where MDM ≈ 27%).
When axions interact with magnetic fields they are believed to decay into photons; what Fraser and his team have done is to use historical records (15 years) from the microwave telescope XMM-Newton to search for these effects. By studying the data they have managed to isolate certain anomalous microwave activity that could reveal axion decay events, as theorised.
Cosmologists suggest that axions were/are created during the big bang and within the interiors of stars, so any generated by the Sun should interact with the Earth’s magnetic field to produce microwave photons. Following this theory, researchers have shown that when all bright X-ray sources are removed from Newton’s data sets there remains anomolous microwave activity that follows regular seasonal patterns—it is believed that this behaviour could be explained by the elusive and highly prized source of dark matter.
As professor Fraser explains, ‘This is an amazing result. If confirmed, it 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.’
Are we on the verge of discovering one of cosmology’s grandest mysteries? Time will tell.
ADMX a separate ground based axion experiment, run by the University of Washington, is due back online in the near future following essential upgrades, therefore further observations/data analysis using XMM-Newton is planned to continue, which should help reveal the answer.
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