Dark matter mystery: Scientist probes ‘dark matter detector’ for hypothetical particles

Dark matter is everywhere, binding galaxies together, even though scientists do not know of any meaningful way in which it can be directly detected or measured. Dark matter is dark because it does not emit or reflect light and it does not appear to interact with any form of radiation. But scientists know it accounts for about 27 percent of the mass of the Universe, based on the effects it has on galaxies.

In short, we know dark matter is there because galaxies are much heavier than the sum total of their stars, dust and gas.

As a result, dark matter has been dubbed the glue holding galaxies together, preventing them from falling apart.

Many theories have been put forward to explain this mystery substance, such as gravity leaking into our Universe from another dimension.

Some scientists are, however, positive the dark matter mystery can be solved through the axion – a hypothetical elementary particle first proposed in the 1970s.

One such scientist is Professor Jeremy Darling from the University of Colorado, Boulder.

The astrophysicist has focused his hunt for dark matter on a deep-space body known as PSR J1745-2900.

This celestial object is a collapsed star with powerful magnetic fields, a magnetar, that orbits close to the centre of the Milky Way galaxy.

Professor Darling said: “It’s the best natural dark matter detector we know about.”

Rather than focus on lab-based experiments, Professor Darling is using telescope data to spot evidence of the axion particle in action.

He said: “In astrophysics, we find all of these interesting problems like dark matter and dark energy, then we step back and let physicists solve them. It’s a shame.”

The astrophysicist hopes to see the dark matter candidate’s faint signals transform into light.

So far, however, the search has failed to yield any positive results.

But Professor Darling hopes the research could still be used by physicists worldwide to help track down the axion.

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His research has been so far published in The Astrophysical Journal Letters and Physical Review Letters.

The magnetar PSR J1745-2900 orbits the galactic centre of the Milky Way, a supermassive black hole dubbed Sagittarius A*, from less than one light-year away.

The collapsed star generates a magnetic field that is about one billion times as powerful as the strongest magnets on Earth.

And all of this is, Professor Darling said, compressed down an area about 12.4 miles (20km) across.

The researcher believes this powerful magnetic field could be key in detecting axions.

If the star is converting the hypothetical particle into light, there is a good chance the transformation will create a detectable radiation signature.

However, the search for this signal has been compared to looking for a needle in a very big haystack.

And so far, scientists worldwide have failed to make any observations or measurements of axions.

Professor Darling said: “We need to fill in those gaps and go even deeper.”

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