Despite decades of actual progress and millennia of attempting to understand the goings-on in outer space, we have made little to no progress in certain areas of expertise. While we are indeed developing our space travel capabilities, and our observation techniques are constantly improving, understanding some issues is still as difficult as it ever was.
And one of these most elusive subjects definitely revolves around dark matter. With current models presenting the mysterious substance to make up about eighty percent of the universe, it may be difficult to understand how we haven’t managed to find any definitive information regarding it. But the explanation is quite simple – we don’t know how to detect it yet.
Still, it would seem like the recent exploits of a certain group of scientists may have finally revealed some of the long searched-for answers. As ALMA discovers a hidden dwarf dark galaxy, the reveal may finally yield some answers to the future study of dark matter and all the mystery that surrounds it.
But how can the discovery of a galaxy yield answers to the long-debated dark matter mystery? Well, it actually has to do with the way the galaxy was found in the first place. Located some twelve billion light-years away from Earth, the galaxy shouldn’t have been visible in the first place. But the galaxy was detected thanks to a naturally occurring phenomenon that was predicted by Einstein in his general theory of relativity – gravitational lensing.
Looking at another galaxy, one much closer to us than the hidden dwarf galaxy (about 4 billion light-years away), the team realized that because of the massive gravitational forces of the closer galaxy they could observe what is known as an Einstein ring. This means that the gravitational forces were so strong that they pulled the light of the distant galaxy towards and around it, making it visible from Earth.
But still, how does this tie into dark matter? Well, by using some of the most advanced computational systems on Earth, including the NCSA’s Blue Waters supercomputer, the team got a better glimpse at the lensing galaxy’s halo, the diffuse and mostly star-free region at its edge, and discovered and interesting clump less than a thousandth of the mass of our galaxy.
The team realized that the clump was actually condensed dark matter, and that they might have accidentally stumbled upon a way to detect from now on, even though only under certain very specific conditions. By looking after instances in which gravitational lensing occurs, the team is pretty certain that they can use that to capture more images dark matter.
Seeing as this is the first time in history anything conclusive has been determined regarding dark matter, scientific minds are understandably excited about the prospect. We might have finally found a way to study a particle that is present all around us and that so far was virtually undetectable.
Image source: International Business Times