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Dark Matter: More Irrefutable Evidence

August 27, 2008 on 5:29 pm | In Dark Matter, cosmology |

A lot of people don’t like dark matter. It’s a crazy idea, after all. Think about everything in your experience: the skies, the sea, you and me, along with the Earth, the Moon, the Sun, and everything we see.

It’s really beautiful, isn’t it? And yet dark matter tells us that for every atom of normal matter in the entire Universe, there is five times as much dark matter, or matter that isn’t made up of protons, neutrons, and electrons.

How do we possibly know this? Well, all matter has something in common: gravity. No matter what you’re made of, if you have mass, you exert a gravitational force on everything else in the Universe. But if you’re made up of normal matter (remember: protons, neutrons, and electrons), you can also emit light under the right conditions. The Sun does this, for example.

So how can we find dark matter? Let’s take the biggest things in the Universe: clusters of galaxies. These are regions of space that have hundreds or even thousands of galaxies the size of our Milky Way in them, and all told they weigh over a quadrillion times as much as our Sun. It would make a great experiment if we could smash two of them together. Because the normal matter should stick together and heat up, and emit X-rays. But if there’s some other type of matter, something different from normal matter, it should just pass right through everything, right on through the other galaxy cluster, like an object in motion remaining in motion. So we look for two clusters of galaxies colliding:

Ladies and gentlemen — BEHOLD! I give you exhibit A, known as the Bullet Cluster. This is two clusters of galaxies colliding, and you can see the individual galaxies here. The pink is the X-ray gas, and you can see that’s where the normal matter collided, stuck together, and emits powerful light in the form of X-rays. But the blue, that’s where all the mass is. From a phenomenon called gravitational lensing, we can measure how much mass there is in a certain region of space. And as you can see, we find that most of the mass is not where the normal matter is.

But we are responsible people, us scientists, and we like to have more than one example before we draw a conclusion. And so I offer you exhibit B, cluster Abell 520:

BEHOLD! This is a cluster in the later stages of merger, so that some of the dark matter has had a chance to come back around to their mutual center of mass. Still, the light coming from the normal matter doesn’t trace where the mass is.

So we’re getting close, but can we find an example of this far away? Can we find a very distant cluster that has these same properties? Let’s take a look at a very special cluster: MACS J0025.

Looks like a big honking cluster, and it contains over 1,000 galaxies and weighs in at over a quadrillion solar masses. A big one, for sure. But where is all the mass? Let’s take a look at the gravitational lensing data and see (in blue false color) where it is:

Ahh, it looks like just two lobes, one towards the left of the image and one towards the right. Well, if these were two clusters that just collided, that would be all the matter that just passed through the center. Except normal matter doesn’t do that! It collides, sticks together, and heats up. What if we took our big X-ray observatory, Chandra, and looked at this cluster. Would we see X-rays coming from the middle? Where there’s very little mass?

ha-HA, we do! So when we put all these together, what do we find? Could the normal matter explain all the gravity we see, or do we need something else; some new type of matter? Ladies and gentlemen:

BEHOLD!!! It’s dark matter, different from normal matter, not made up of protons, neutrons, and electrons, but full of mass and exerting a gravitational force nonetheless. There are some awesome animations up at the Chandra Website, which I highly recommend to you.


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  1. Still awesome!

    But I’m really starting to hate that quadrillion. 1) it doesn’t mean the same over here (long form vs. short form), 2) it’s so big as to be senseless. Not least since we’re talking clusters of galaxies, not stars. The natural metric would be Milky Ways. But I guess that’s problematic since we then have to decide in that’s incl. or excl. dark matter.

    The DM and DE deniers (on Univers Today for instance) are also starting to annoy me. DM and DE really are the least loaded names that are still somewhat descriptive, but sometimes I think it woulda been better to go the quark way. Never read Joyce, myself, but perhaps we could go with Tweedledee and Tweedledum or summat.

    Comment by Sili — August 28, 2008 #

  2. Sili, although I agree there is completely overwhelming evidence in favour of some additional field in the cosmos which interacts mainly gravitationally I do not think that the case is closed as far as the LCDM picture is concerned. Are cosmologists really sure yet that the need for a small cosmological constant (as \Omega_m=1 is not viable) isn’t ultimately a problem? How big of a problem might it be?

    Comment by crowell merryman — August 28, 2008 #

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  4. Dark matter is bullshit. Wake up.

    Comment by K — January 30, 2009 #

  5. K,

    Thanks for your insights. I disagree with your conclusions, though. Any evidence to support your claims?

    Comment by ethan — January 30, 2009 #

  6. I’m doing a project on dark matter and this realy helped.
    Thank you!

    Comment by B.C. — February 20, 2009 #

  7. GKDVwD

    Comment by Myejofxk — July 14, 2009 #

  8. What you are offering here Ethan, is not irrefutable evidence but highly speculative . Your sole ‘evidence’ for dark matter is gravitational lensing evidence which can just as eassily be explained by the gravity of the objects closer to us. Also some of the lensed objects are at right angles to each other and not in a nice circle. What is more some of the ‘lensed’ objects are just unusual shapes that just appear to be lensed. No, I think K above may have the correct answer to your imagined evidence.

    Comment by Ian from OZ — September 2, 2009 #

  9. So, we live in a universe where time, space and mass are relative. It’s already been proven right? So what’s more likely, that over 90% of the universe is some invisible material that gravitationally affects galaxies far far away and helps our equations to balance? Or that there are other rules (similar to special relativity) that we haven’t yet discovered that make our equations incorrect?

    Think about it.

    Comment by doesnt matter — September 21, 2009 #

  10. I love it how in every other field of science, theory is just that, until proven to be “correct”. But in the field of astrophysics, everything seems to stand as fact, as long as you have enough people of your side, until it gets surpassed by the next flavor-of-the-month! Not that I mind, though, it sure makes for good topical discussion!!!

    Comment by Tim Heinmann — October 11, 2009 #

  11. The first time I’ve actually seen a decent defense of dark matter.

    My biggest issue is, you start of so well, you point out that all matter has mass and gravity.

    If 70-90% of our universe was dark matter. Why isn’t this matter clumping together? It has gravity, naturally it should clump together.

    If it doesnt clump together, that is like saying dark matter is not affected by gravity, which is illogical but would also just mean that it would be equally spread out everywhere and would be negligible.

    Even if dark matter for some reason didn’t clump on its own, the interaction of regular matter would clump it together.

    Lets stop for a second here, yes we see our universe, and we need to know whats affecting it but hey, lets reverse this.

    How are WE affecting dark matter?

    What forms a black hole? In the end it is a concentration of mass with enough gravity to collapse in on itself. Wouldn’t singularities also include dark matter. After-all, in the center of a black hole, all matter breaks down into the smallest form (below the division between dark matter and regular matter).

    If 90% of the universe were dark matter, we would be affected constantly by dark matter asteroids, etc. Black holes would form up everywhere, how could starts exist? Dark matter would drawn in very quickly and the star would collapse into a singularity.

    Comment by Andrew — May 22, 2010 #

  12. >But the blue, that’s where all the mass is.

    What you mean is that is where all the mass APPEARS to be.

    Why do you assume that gravity is right, then invent new mass to explain the observation? How is this any more valid than assuming the mass is right and inventing a new gravity theory to explain the observation?

    There is no basis in logic to choose one over the other.

    Many gravity theories can explain the lensing in this case, such as

    There seems to be a belief among physicists that the first theory is always right until a new theory explains more. Every theory should be considered until there is evidence to the contrary.

    Comment by MikeK — June 27, 2010 #

  13. Hello- At first sorry for the orthography but I am not english so I will try with the little engish I know so far.
    I read and see the last years all dark black gloomy holes and energy. For me seems a little of Gothic fantasy -whatever we do not see it is not dark bad black and evil. I like to ask a question: What is the difference anyway of positive and negative of the matter and antimater? Another question: How long x rays need to go and come back from these far away galaxies -if these pictures are the real thing of what the space looks there. All these speculations seems to my humble eyes and ears just sci.fiction and fantasy. Mostly all the pictures I see are very good or bad paintings grafics etc.
    I read in a book of PLOTIN that ENERGY AND MOVEMENT are being created at once because there is no energy without movement and there is no movement without creating energy. Both are related and can not be -exist- separate. Then WE crete time to mesure the movement but time as mathematics don’t exist and universe exists without mathematics and time -we need these 2 to mesure. Also PYTHAGOREANS said that we use mathematics to find somthing and after we find it we remove methematics to see if it is true. MATHEMATICS in Greek language means LEARNING from the word MATHEMA. The prove to this is that the number 2 it is not II but it is the symbol we agree to mean 2 -II-.
    In universe even the things which are look the same are not the same. For example an electron seems the same with all the others. But then why we are all different since we have all the same electrons. Every electron has different personality and abilities which others do not -as humans -we are all humans but different to each other -why? We are all humans. We are all the same kind we eat more or less the same and even other animals eat the same as we but we are all different and we are all in different positions in universe and we can not be at the same time and in the same place with others and our molecules are not confused or escape -that is some of the logic of the univers -so different but the same with little things different. The different position in space makes everything different -but also that it is not enough.
    I send the below text to another person:
    The below text are free translations of PLATO, PLOTIN, PYTHAGOREANS & SEXTUS EMPIRICUS theory of relativity (1800 years ago) -There is a book of PLATON about QVANTO MEKANICS (THAIETITOS) Try to find it in your language in a good translation.
    I will try to remind you some things that have been said by these people 1800 to 2700 years ago. At first there is no dark black red yellow or white matter or any matter at all. That is because there is no size -big or small- in universe -there is no big or small at all. All are combinations of what we call IDEAS and KNOWLEDGE. There is no time because time is the mesure of movement in space So there is only movement and nothing lost or new been created because you can not take something out of universe -space- and you can not put something in it because all already exist and all are creations of the already existing KNOWLEDGE which is an IDEA of being and recreating the same IDEA. Space can not expand because where to expand to? that is because space has no size and as we understand there is no limit or size -end or begin- you need more space or space can not be smaler because what will left what. We see in a way with our senses -and our senses can not see all- and that is not the truth because any truth needs prof and every prof needs prof and so on. Everything after you see it if you see it again it will be different and next time also. So any prof must be again remake and again and again. Dark blue red are only names that we give and universe has nothing to do with that. If universe listens what you -or I-said it will hear vsiuv984v 3984ve98vv 98vs9h or whatever because you said nothing to it and it cares not about whatever we said -it cares only if this is conects with it in harmony based on it’s contstant changing. Also the whole thing about universe is that we take logic from it and soul and whatever we think so that means that whatever we thing is already made by universe. If the harmonics in our thoughts do not in-harmonize with it it will be conflict. But even when we not harmonize with it it is natural and there is a logic beyond that. Questions: Have we seen an electron? a proton? How these look like? The pictures of the galaxies are mostly funny -are just spots that I can make them on a paper. Do we know why a color is the way we see it and why this color exists? What kind of information the colors gives to our minds and what we understand when we recive it’s information that gives to us -What we record in our mind when we see it and what different information we recive when we see it in a different place. It is possible that the color don’t exist but we see it as color and may be it is something very different than color. Anyway I stop here. And sorry for my english writing which is not so good but I think that you understand what I am trying to say. Regards -Stefan Glaufx.

    Comment by Glaufx Garland — July 20, 2010 #

  14. I admit, I have not been on this webpage in a long time… however it was another joy to see It is such an important topic and ignored by so many, even professionals. I thank you to help making people more aware of possible issues.Great stuff as usual You can find many great vacation packages to fit your family’s budget if you take some time to search online.

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  15. Maybe you should edit the page subject title Dark Matter: More Irrefutable Evidence | Starts With A Bang! to more generic for your content you create. I liked the the writing however.

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  19. Dark Matter, String Theory, etc. etc. “Science” has turned into quack to make $$$$, just like the preachers, and scam artists.

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  23. Its not about whether this dark matter/energy exists or not. It’s about how to detect it not by measurements of galaxies/clusters or gravity phenomena on big scale but here on Earth in a laboratory. Here is no way to measure gravity of some unkown matter/energy to be precise enough for a distictive conclusion about its nature. Author must know that DM/DE has very limit interaction by electromagnetic/nuclear or weak forces with normal matter/energy - so particle physics can’t even test the existence of it. Every strong or weak nongravitational force produce some kind of energy release of photons/pions/bozons or quarks in forms of strange particles or even bursts of them and eventually electromagnetic waves.
    So that matter is not only electrons/protons/neutrons but it can’t even be any leptons/hadrons except possibly neutrinos. For today particle physics to say something about dark matter/energy it can only be neutrinos that very rarely interact with normal matter, have no interaction with photons and already in huge numbers cause every p+p thermonuclear reaction produce them. But that matter is not completely dark when it have weak interactions with nuclei it emits gamma rays/light. Its possible that astronomers cant detect gamma radiation from so rare interactions on galaxy/cluster scales near the random noise or cause extremely powerful gamma source like our Sun. And you must remember - if you cant see/detect/analyse something its almost equal to nonexistant - similar to hunting black cat in a dark room when there is none. I think this problem of modern astrophysics is that Einstein gravity can’t be very precise on scales of galaxy(or large) and is difficult to combine it with modern quantum theory that rules particle physics. Try to find smthg about state of theory of quantum gravitation and you will find dark and strange forest.

    Comment by Sergey — August 29, 2012 #

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