“The nature of dark matter is one of the greatest mysteries in science and we need to use any related new data to address it,” said astronomer Avi Loeb with the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. Dark matter is “dark” in the sense that it hardly interacts with anything, especially with light. Although dark matter may be too difficult to detect in particle experiments, it can reveal its presence in astronomical observations.
On the Frontiers of Basic Physics
Dark matter pushes the boundaries of the basic laws of known physics. Leading candidates for dark matter who have so far challenged every type of detector designed to find it. Because of its huge gravitational footprint in space, we know that dark matter must be about 85 percent of the total mass of the universe, but we don’t know yet what it is made of, but if it has anything to do with any scalar particles, it may be older than the Big Bang, suggest physicists, who, sounding like the creators of science fiction, have imagined new types of dark matter ranging from planet-sized particles to highly speculative dark matter life .
Hubble Clues to Dark Matter Missing
But what astrophysicists know, is that new data from the Hubble Space Telescope explains the reason behind the missing dark matter in NGC 1052-DF4, which occupies 45 million light years from Earth. Astronomers discovered that the lost enigmatic matter can be explained by the effects of tidal disturbances from the gravitational forces of the nearby massive galaxy NGC 1035 that pull NGC 1052-DF4 from dark matter. while the stars feel the effects of the interaction with another galaxy later on.
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Until now, dark matter removal in this way has remained hidden until astronomers using Hubble’s high resolution could observe extremely deep images that can reveal very weak features including identifying the galaxy’s globular clusters population.
“We used Hubble in two ways to find out that NGC 1052-DF4 is experiencing interaction. This includes studying the galaxy’s light and the distribution of the galaxy’s globular clusters, ”explained an STScI Fellow at the Space Telescope Science Institute, Mireia Montes of the University of New South Wales in Australia, who led an international team of astronomers to study the galaxy using deep optical imaging including a 10.4-meter Gran Telescopio Canarias (GTC) telescope and an IAC80 telescope in the Canaries, Spain, to complement Hubble’s observations,
The Dark Matter of Dark Matter – “May be older than Big Bang”
This image at the top of the page shows the region around the galaxy NGC 1052-DF4, taken by the IAC80 telescope at the Teide Observatory in Tenerife. The figure highlights the main galaxies in the field of view, including NGC 1052-DF4 (center of image), and its neighbor NGC 1035 (center left).
Globular Clusters Reveal Clues
Global clusters – the oldest visible objects in the universe believed to have formed shortly after the Universe began nearly 13.8 billion years ago, coinciding with the first galaxies formed, or perhaps even age before. They are thought to form in the episodes of intense star formation that shaped galaxies. Each contains hundreds of thousands to sometimes over ten million stars all born at one and the same time, thickly packed into a spherical volume with a diameter over a thousand times smaller than the diameter of the Milky Way. Their compact sizes and luminosity make them easy to see and are therefore a good trace of the properties of their host galaxy.
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By studying and characterizing the spatial distribution of the clusters in NGC 1052-DF4, astronomers can develop insights into the current state of the galaxy itself. The alignment of these clusters suggests that they are “removed” from their host galaxy, and this supports the conclusion that tidal disturbance is occurring.
Tidal Tails Confirm Impairment Event
By studying the light of the galaxy, astronomers also found evidence of tidal tails, formed from material moving away from NGC1052-DF4 – this further supports the conclusion that this is a disturbance event. Further analysis concluded that the central parts of the galaxy remain untouched and only 7% of the galaxy’s stellar mass is maintained in these tidal tails. This means that dark matter, less concentrated than stars, has been previously and preferentially removed from the galaxy, and now the outer stellar component is also starting to be removed.
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Stars Showing Effects After Evaporating Dark Matter
“This result is a good indicator that even though the dark matter of the galaxy has evaporated from the system, the stars are only now beginning to suffer from the disturbance mechanism,” explained team member Ignacio Trujillo of ‘ r Instituto de Astrofísica de Canarias in Spain. “In time, NGC1052-DF4 will be cannibalized by the large system surrounding NGC1035, with at least some of their stars floating freely in deep space.”
“Sigh of Release”
The discovery of evidence to support a tidal disturbance mechanism such as the explanation for the lost dark matter of the galaxy has not only resolved astronomical conundrum, but also brought a sigh of relief to astronomers. Without it, scientists would face having to review our understanding of the laws of gravity.
“This discovery reconciles existing knowledge of how galaxies form and evolve with the most favorable cosmological model,” Montes added.
The Daily Galaxy, Max Goldberg, via ESA / Hubble Information Center