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Observations from the Hubble telescope highlight the strangeness of dark matter

Again, scientists have figured this out when it comes to dark matter, one or two pieces of the puzzle are missing.

Dark matter makes up more than a quarter of the universe, scientists have figured out, but haven’t yet learned to see it directly. (Strange things don’t emit, absorb, or reflect light, hence the name.) So they turn to effects they can see, such as how a cluster of dark matter deforms the space around it, changing our view of the objects on the other side. But according to a new study, some tiny clusters are distorting space far more than scientists expected.

“There is one feature of the real universe that we are simply not capturing in our current theoretical models,”

; Priyamvada Natarajana, theoretical astrophysicist at Yale University and co-author of the new research, he said in a statement. “This may signal a gap in our current understanding of the nature of dark matter and its properties, as these exquisite data allowed us to probe the detailed distribution of dark matter on the smallest scales.”

Related: Dark matter and dark energy: the mystery explained (infographic)


These “galactic fireworks” are the colored stars that make up the globular cluster NGC 1805, as seen in this photo taken by the Hubble Space Telescope. This cluster of thousands of stars is located at the edge of the large Magellanic Cloud. (Image credit: ESA / Hubble and NASA, J. Kalirai; CC BY 4.0)

The scientists behind the new research wanted to verify how current theoretical models of dark matter overlap with the round observations we can collect on it. So they turned to clusters of galaxies, which hide a huge amount of dark matter.

“Galactic clusters are ideal laboratories to understand if computer simulations of the universe reliably reproduce what we can deduce about dark matter and its interaction with luminous matter,” said Massimo Meneghetti, cosmologist at the National Institute of Astrophysics. in Italy and lead author of the new research, he said in the statement.

The researchers used observations of three different galaxy clusters collected by two instruments, the Hubble Space Telescope and the Very large telescope in Chile. Scientists mapped dark matter inside clusters noting how the material was distorting light.

Among the large-scale distortions that astronomers expected to find, they also identified smaller areas of deformation, which they suspect mark the positions of individual smaller cluster galaxies that hide concentrations of dark matter.

But when the researchers combined their dark matter map with a model’s predictions of what dark matter might look like in cluster galaxies, the two landscapes didn’t align. This means that scientists still haven’t solved the puzzle of how dark matter behaves.

The research is described in a document published today (September 11) in the journal Science.

Email Meghan Bartels at mbartels@space.com or follow her on Twitter @meghanbartels. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook.

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