Although dark matter comprises the majority of the universe's matter, its nature remains a tantalizing enigma.
In a recent study published in The Astrophysical Journal, scientists have managed to map out the spread of dark matter in the universe with an accuracy never seen before. They’ve zoomed in on spaces as specific as 30,000 light-years apart – that’s like looking at our galaxy’s neighborhood in the vast universe. With this new insight, we’re now a step closer to understanding what dark matter really is and where it exists in the cosmos.
Although dark matter comprises the majority of the universe’s matter, its nature remains a tantalizing enigma. Being invisible, dark matter reveals its presence solely through its gravitational impact. Given that scientists haven’t managed to capture dark matter in labs, they turn to nature’s own experiments for insights.
The Magic of Gravitational Lenses
One such “natural experiment” is the gravitational lens. Occasionally, cosmic alignment allows two space objects at varying distances to appear on a single line-of-sight from Earth. When this occurs, the closer object’s surrounding matter curves space, behaving like a lens. This “lens” refracts the distant object’s light, producing a lensed image. Yet, spotting smaller dark matter clumps, especially those less hefty than galaxies, has been a challenge, leaving many questions about dark matter unanswered.
Guided by Professor Kaiki Taro Inoue, researchers from Kindai University took advantage of ALMA (Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array) to probe the gravitational lens system MG J0414+0534, located in the Taurus constellation. Remarkably, due to a massive galaxy’s gravitational might, this system presents not just one but four images of the distant object.
Harnessing this unique bending phenomenon combined with a pioneering data analysis technique, the team charted the dark matter’s distribution fluctuations with more clarity than ever, right down to a 30,000 light-year scale.
The findings align with the theory of slow-moving, or “cold,” dark matter particles.
Looking ahead, the researchers are eager to delve even deeper into the dark matter mystery, utilizing more observations to further refine their understanding.
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