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Novel Technique Developed to Help Detect Dark Matter

Meteors may assist astronomers in devising a new approach to detect dark matter—elusive and indistinguishable particles that have thus far only been recognized by the influence they impart on the natural world.

Novel Technique Developed to Help Detect Dark Matter

John Beacom. Image Credit: The Ohio State University.

Dark matter is five times more widespread than ordinary matter and composes approximately 85% of the universe's total mass and approximately a quarter (26.8%) of the total mass and energy of the universe.

Humans cannot spot these mysterious particles instantly, as dark matter discharges no light; therefore, researchers use robust instruments—namely, NASA’s upcoming Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope or the Hubble Space Telescope to observe its impact on galaxies and other distant star constellations.

According to a study headed by scientists at The Ohio State University (OSU), radar instruments on the ground could be employed to help the exploration.

John Beacom, the study’s co-author and professor of astronomy and physics at OSU, explained that while astronomers usually seek only tiny particles of dark matter with tiny masses, the objective of this new study is to enhance the search by helping to define macroscopic dark matter: particles with a large mass that might not reach conventional earth-based detectors.

One of the reasons dark matter is so hard to detect could be because the particles are so massive. If the dark-matter mass is small, then the particles are common, but if the mass is large, the particles are rare.

John Beacom, Study Co-Author and Professor, Physics and Astronomy, OSU

Although these particles cannot be seen or touched, dark matter can be observed by its gravitational impact on other celestial occurrences such as black holes and stars.

Despite the fact its effects on other natural systems are not easy to classify, spending time to comprehend more about dark matter opens new doors for scientists to learn about the shape, size, and future of the cosmos, Beacom stated. Such findings can also expose the mass of these particles—which, contingent on their size, can have massive impacts on the structure and formation of galaxies.

The study is at present published in arXiv, an open-access preprint server.

This unique aspect of this research is that researchers employed the same technology used to monitor meteors as they flash across the sky. When streaking through the Earth’s atmosphere, dark matter particles and meteors create ionization deposits—a kind of radiation that leaves behind free electrons, atoms that can conduct electricity.

Electromagnetic waves emitted by radar recoil off the free electrons, indicating the existence of otherworldly matter, which can then be applied to differentiate dark matter from meteors. The whole planet’s atmosphere can be altered into one efficient, massive particle detector.

Although researchers have used this technique of searching for meteors for decades, Beacom said he was amazed that no one had ever applied these systems, or their formerly collected data, in the hunt for dark matter.

One of the study’s major conclusions is how the team’s new technique could complement other astrophysical hunts for dark matter, as their system provides a level of precision and sensitivity that many other methods lack.

Current cosmology techniques are pretty sensitive, but they don't have a way to check their own work. This is a totally new technique, so if scientists are unsure about what they’ve detected, a signal from cosmology could be checked in detail with the radar technique.

John Beacom, Study Co-Author and Professor, Physics and Astronomy, OSU

Co-authors from OSU were Steven Prohira, Pawan Dhakal, and Christopher Cappiello and from the University of Colorado Boulder, Scott Palo and John Marino.

The National Science Foundation supported this work.


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