Archive for dark matter

Crunch time for Dark Matter?

Posted in The Universe and Stuff with tags , , on January 9, 2018 by telescoper

Gratuitous picture of the cluster Abel 2218, showing numerous gravitational lensing arcs

I was reading through an article by Philip Ball in the Grauniad this morning about likely breakthroughs in science for the forthcoming year. One of the topics discussed therein was dark matter. Here’s an excerpt:

It’s been agreed for decades that the universe must contain large amounts of so-called dark matter – about five times as much as all the matter visible as stars, galaxies and dust. This dark matter appears to exert a gravitational tug while not interacting significantly with ordinary matter or light in other ways. But no one has any idea what it consists of. Experiments have been trying to detect it for years, but all have drawn a blank. The situation is becoming grave enough for some researchers to start taking more seriously suggestions that what looks like dark matter is in fact a consequence of something else – such as a new force that modifies the apparent effects of gravity. This year could prove to be crunch time for dark matter: how long do we persist in believing in something when there’s no direct evidence for it?

It’s a good question, though I have to say that there’s very little direct evidence for anything in cosmology: it’s mostly circumstantial, i.e. evidence that relies on an inference to connect it to a conclusion of fact…

Anyway, I thought it would be fun to do a totally unscientific poll of the sort that scientists find  fun to do, so here’s one. It’s actually quite hard to make this the topic of a simple question, because we know that there is ordinary (baryonic) matter that we can’t see, and there is known to be some non-baryonic dark matter in the form of a cosmic neutrino background. What the question below should be interpreted to mean, therefore, is  `is there a dominant component of non-baryonic dark matter in the Universe in the form of some as-yet undiscovered particle?’ or something like that.

For the record, I do think there is dark matter but less convinced that it is simple cold dark matter. On the other hand, I regard its existence as a working hypothesis rather than an article of faith and do not lose any sleep about the possibility of that hypothesis turning out to be wrong!



Hic Sunt Leones

Posted in The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , , , , on November 15, 2017 by telescoper

Just time for a very quick post, as today I travelled to Brighton to attend an inaugural lecture by Professor Antonella De Santo at the University of Sussex.

Antonella was the first female Professor of Physics at the University of Sussex and I’m glad to say she was promoted to a Chair during my watch as Head of the School of Mathematical and Physical Sciences, at Sussex. That was about four years ago, so it has taken a while to arrange her inaugural lecture, but it was worth the wait to be able to celebrate Antonella’s many achievements.

The lecture was about the search for physics beyond the standard model using the ATLAS experiment at the Large Hadron Collider, with a focus on supersymmetry and possibly candidates for dark matter. It was a very nice lecture that told a complex story through pictures and avoiding any difficult mathematics, followed by a drinks reception during which I got to have a gossip with some former colleagues.

The title, by the way, stems from the practice among mediaeval cartographers of marking terra incognita with `Here be lions’ or `Here be dragons‘. I hasten to add that no lions were harmed during the talk.

Anyway, it was nice to have an excuse to visit Brighton again. The last time I was here was over a year ago. It was nice to see some familiar faces, especially in the inestimable Miss Lemon, with whom I enjoyed a very nice curry after the talk!

Now for a sleep and the long journey back to Cardiff tomorrow morning!

Dark Matter Day

Posted in History, The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , , , on October 31, 2017 by telescoper

As a welcome alternative to the tedium of Hallowe’en (which I usually post about in this fashion), I notice that today (31st October 2017) has been officially designated Dark Matter Day. I would have sent some appropriate greetings cards but I couldn’t find any in the shops…

All of which gives me the excuse to post this nice video which shows (among other things) how dark matter plays a role in the formation of galaxies:

P.S. Lest we forget, today is also the 500th anniversary of the day that Martin Luther knocked on the door of All Saints’ Church in Wittenberg and said `Trick or Theses?’ (Is this right? Ed.)

Strong constraints on cosmological gravity from GW170817 and GRB 170817A

Posted in The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , , , on October 24, 2017 by telescoper

One of the many interesting scientific results to emerge from last week’s announcement of a gravitational wave source (GW170817) with an electromagnetic counterpart (GRB 170817A) is the fact that it provides constraints on departures from Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity. In particular the (lack of a) time delay between the arrival of the gravitational and electromagnetic signals can be used to rule out models that predict that gravitational waves and electromagnetic waves travel with different speeds. The fractional time delay associated with this source is constrained to be less than 10-17 which actually rules out many of the proposed alternatives to general relativity. Modifications of Einstein’s gravity have been proposed for a number of reasons, including the desire to explain the dynamics of the expanding Universe without the need for Dark Energy or Dark Matter (or other exotica), but many of these are now effectively dead.

Anyway, I bookmarked a nice paper about this last week while I was in India but forgot to post it then, so if you’re interested in reading more about this have a look at this arXiv paper by Baker et al., which has the following abstract:

The detection of an electromagnetic counterpart (GRB 170817A) to the gravitational wave signal (GW170817) from the merger of two neutron stars opens a completely new arena for testing theories of gravity. We show that this measurement allows us to place stringent constraints on general scalar-tensor and vector-tensor theories, while allowing us to place an independent bound on the graviton mass in bimetric theories of gravity. These constraints severely reduce the viable range of cosmological models that have been proposed as alternatives to general relativistic cosmology.

How the Nonbaryonic Dark Matter Theory Grew [CEA]

Posted in The Universe and Stuff with tags , , on January 24, 2017 by telescoper

Another arXiver post, this time from the great Jim Peebles. Always a skeptic about dark matter, especially cold dark matter, it is the hallmark of a great scientist that he weighs up the evidence as objectively as possible.

This is a long review, but well worth reading for its important insights and historical perspective. I agree that the case for non-baryonic dark matter is compelling, but it is also far from proved and it’s still possible that an alternative, equally or more compelling, theory will be found.


The evidence is that the mass of the universe is dominated by an exotic nonbaryonic form of matter largely draped around the galaxies. It approximates an initially low pressure gas of particles that interact only with gravity, but we know little more than that. Searches for detection thus must follow many difficult paths to a great discovery, what the universe is made of. The nonbaryonic picture grew out of a convergence of evidence and ideas in the early 1980s. Developments two decades later considerably improved the evidence, and advances since then have made the case for nonbaryonic dark matter compelling.

Read this paper on arXiv…

P. Peebles
Mon, 23 Jan 17

Comments: An essay to accompany articles on dark matter detection in Nature Astronomy

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Status of Dark Matter in the Universe [CEA]

Posted in The Universe and Stuff with tags , on January 11, 2017 by telescoper

Courtesy of arXiver, here’s a nice review article if you want to get up to date with the latest ideas and evidence about Dark Matter…


Over the past few decades, a consensus picture has emerged in which roughly a quarter of the universe consists of dark matter. I begin with a review of the observational evidence for the existence of dark matter: rotation curves of galaxies, gravitational lensing measurements, hot gas in clusters, galaxy formation, primordial nucleosynthesis and cosmic microwave background observations. Then I discuss a number of anomalous signals in a variety of data sets that may point to discovery, though all of them are controversial. The annual modulation in the DAMA detector and/or the gamma-ray excess seen in the Fermi Gamma Ray Space Telescope from the Galactic Center could be due to WIMPs; a 3.5 keV X-ray line from multiple sources could be due to sterile neutrinos; or the 511 keV line in INTEGRAL data could be due to MeV dark matter. All of these would require further confirmation in other experiments…

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A Non-accelerating Universe?

Posted in Astrohype, The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , , , on October 26, 2016 by telescoper

There’s been quite a lot of reaction on the interwebs over the last few days much of it very misleading; here’s a sensible account) to a paper by Nielsen, Guffanti and Sarkar which has just been published online in Scientific Reports, an offshoot of Nature. I think the above link should take you an “open access” version of the paper but if it doesn’t you can find the arXiv version here. I haven’t cross-checked the two versions so the arXiv one may differ slightly.

Anyway, here is the abstract:

The ‘standard’ model of cosmology is founded on the basis that the expansion rate of the universe is accelerating at present — as was inferred originally from the Hubble diagram of Type Ia supernovae. There exists now a much bigger database of supernovae so we can perform rigorous statistical tests to check whether these ‘standardisable candles’ indeed indicate cosmic acceleration. Taking account of the empirical procedure by which corrections are made to their absolute magnitudes to allow for the varying shape of the light curve and extinction by dust, we find, rather surprisingly, that the data are still quite consistent with a constant rate of expansion.

Obviously I haven’t been able to repeat the statistical analysis but I’ve skimmed over what they’ve done and as far as I can tell it looks a fairly sensible piece of work (although it is a frequentist analysis). Here is the telling plot (from the Nature version)  in terms of the dark energy (y-axis) and matter (x-axis) density parameters:


Models shown in this plane by a line have the correct balance between Ωm, and ΩΛ to cancel out the decelerating effect of the former against the accelerating effect of the latter (a special case is the origin on the plot, which is called the Milne model and represents an entirely empty universe). The contours show “1, 2 and 3σ” contours, regarding all other parameters as nuisance parameters. It is true that the line of no acceleration does go inside the 3σcontour so in that sense is not entirely inconsistent with the data. On the other hand, the “best fit” (which is at the point Ωm=0.341, ΩΛ=0.569) does represent an accelerating universe.

I am not all that surprised by this result, actually. I’ve always felt that taken on its own the evidence for cosmic acceleration from supernovae alone was not compelling. However, when it is combined with other measurements (particularly of the cosmic microwave background and large-scale structure) which are sensitive to other aspects of the cosmological space-time geometry, the agreement is extremely convincing and has established a standard “concordance” cosmology. The CMB, for example, is particularly sensitive to spatial curvature which, measurements tells us, must be close to zero. The Milne model, on the other hand, has a large (negative) spatial curvature entirely excluded by CMB observations. Curvature is regarded as a “nuisance parameter” in the above diagram.

I think this paper is a worthwhile exercise. Subir Sarkar (one of the authors) in particular has devoted a lot of energy to questioning the standard ΛCDM model which far too many others accept unquestioningly. That’s a noble thing to do, and it is an essential part of the scientific method, but this paper only looks at one part of an interlocking picture. The strongest evidence comes from the cosmic microwave background and despite this reanalysis I feel the supernovae measurements still provide a powerful corroboration of the standard cosmology.

Let me add, however, that the supernovae measurements do not directly measure cosmic acceleration. If one tries to account for them with a model based on Einstein’s general relativity and the assumption that the Universe is on large-scales is homogeneous and isotropic and with certain kinds of matter and energy then the observations do imply a universe that accelerates. Any or all of those assumptions may be violated (though some possibilities are quite heavily constrained). In short we could, at least in principle, simply be interpreting these measurements within the wrong framework, and statistics can’t help us with that!