How Heavy Is Dark Matter? For the First Time Scientists Radically Narrow the Potential Mass Range
Scientists have calculated the mass range for Dark Matter – and it’s tighter than the science world thought.
Their findings – due to be published in Physical Letters B in March – radically narrow the range of potential masses for Dark Matter particles, and help to focus the search for future Dark Matter-hunters. The University of Sussex researchers used the established fact that gravity acts on Dark Matter just as it acts on the visible universe to work out the lower and upper limits of Dark Matter’s mass.
The results show that Dark Matter cannot be either ‘ultra-light’ or ‘super-heavy’, as some have theorized, unless an as-yet undiscovered force also acts upon it.
The team used the assumption that the only force acting on Dark Matter is gravity, and calculated that Dark Matter particles must have a mass between 10-3 eV and 107 eV. That’s a much tighter range than the 10-24 eV – 1019 GeV spectrum which is generally theorized.
What makes the discovery even more significant is that if it turns out that the mass of Dark Matter is outside of the range predicted by the Sussex team, then it will also prove that an additional force – as well as gravity – acts on Dark Matter.
Professor Xavier Calmet from the School of Mathematical and Physical Sciences at the University of Sussex, said:
“This is the first time that anyone has thought to use what we know about quantum gravity as a way to calculate the mass range for Dark Matter. We were surprised when we realised no-one had done it before – as were the fellow scientists reviewing our paper.
“What we’ve done shows that Dark Matter cannot be either ‘ultra-light’ or ‘super-heavy’ as some theorize – unless there is an as-yet unknown additional force acting on it. This piece of research helps physicists in two ways: it focuses the search area for Dark Matter, and it will potentially also help reveal whether or not there is a mysterious unknown additional force in the universe.”
Folkert Kuipers, a PhD student working with Professor Calmet, at the University of Sussex, said:
“As a PhD student, it’s great to be able to work on research as exciting and impactful as this. Our findings are very good news for experimentalists as it will help them to get closer to discovering the true nature of Dark Matter.”
The visible universe – such as ourselves, the planets and stars – accounts for 25 percent of all mass in the universe. The remaining 75 percent is comprised of Dark Matter.
It is known that gravity acts on Dark Matter because that’s what accounts for the shape of galaxies.
Unlike normal matter, dark matter does not interact with the electromagnetic force. This means it does not absorb, reflect or emit light, making it extremely hard to spot. In fact, researchers have been able to infer the existence of dark matter only from the gravitational effect it seems to have on visible matter. Dark matter seems to outweigh visible matter roughly six to one, making up about 27% of the universe. Here’s a sobering fact: The matter we know and that makes up all stars and galaxies only accounts for 5% of the content of the universe! But what is dark matter? One idea is that it could contain “supersymmetric particles” – hypothesized particles that are partners to those already known in the Standard Model. Experiments at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) may provide more direct clues about dark matter.
Mass – Many theories say the dark matter particles would be light enough to be produced at the LHC. If they were created at the LHC, they would escape through the detectors unnoticed. However, they would carry away energy and momentum, so physicists could infer their existence from the amount of energy and momentum “missing” after a collision. Dark matter candidates arise frequently in theories that suggest physics beyond the Standard Model, such as supersymmetry and extra dimensions. One theory suggests the existence of a “Hidden Valley”, a parallel world made of dark matter having very little in common with matter we know. If one of these theories proved to be true, it could help scientists gain a better understanding of the composition of our universe and, in particular, how galaxies hold together.
Dark energy makes up approximately 68% of the universe and appears to be associated with the vacuum in space. It is distributed evenly throughout the universe, not only in space but also in time – in other words, its effect is not diluted as the universe expands. The even distribution means that dark energy does not have any local gravitational effects, but rather a global effect on the universe as a whole. This leads to a repulsive force, which tends to accelerate the expansion of the universe. The rate of expansion and its acceleration can be measured by observations based on the Hubble law. These measurements, together with other scientific data, have confirmed the existence of dark energy and provide an estimate of just how much of this mysterious substance exists.
Cosmological models in which dark matter consists of cold elementary particles predict that the dark halo population should extend to masses many orders of magnitude below those at which galaxies can form1,2,3. Here we report a cosmological simulation of the formation of present-day haloes over the full range of observed halo masses (20 orders of magnitude) when dark matter is assumed to be in the form of weakly interacting massive particles of mass approximately 100 gigaelectronvolts. The simulation has a full dynamic range of 30 orders of magnitude in mass and resolves the internal structure of hundreds of Earth-mass haloes in as much detail as it does for hundreds of rich galaxy clusters. We find that halo density profiles are universal over the entire mass range and are well described by simple two-parameter fitting formulae. Halo mass and concentration are tightly related in a way that depends on cosmology and on the nature of the dark matter. For a fixed mass, the concentration is independent of the local environment for haloes less massive than those of typical galaxies.
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