Dark Matter, Ordinary Matter...


Topics: Astronomy, Astrophysics, Dark Matter, Research, Theoretical Physics

Dark matter, composed of particles that do not reflect, emit, or absorb light, is predicted to make up most of the matter in the universe. However, its lack of interactions with light prevents its direct detection using conventional experimental methods.

Physicists have been trying to devise alternative methods to detect and study dark matter for decades, yet many questions about its nature and its presence in our galaxy remain unanswered. Pulsar Timing Array (PTA) experiments have been trying to probe the presence of so-called ultralight dark matter particles by examining the timing of an ensemble of galactic millisecond radio pulsars (i.e., celestial objects that emit regular millisecond-long radio wave pulses).

The European Pulsar Timing Array, a multinational team of researchers based at different institutes that are using 6 radio-telescopes across Europe to observe specific pulsars, recently analyzed the second wave of data they collected. Their paper, published in Physical Review Letters, sets more stringent constraints on the presence of ultralight dark matter in the Milky Way.

"This paper was basically the result of my first Ph.D. project," Clemente Smarra, co-author of the paper, told Phys.org. "The idea arose when I asked my supervisor if I could carry out research focusing on gravitational wave science, but from a particle physics perspective. The main aim of the project was to constrain the presence of the so-called ultralight dark matter in our galaxy."

Ultralight dark matter is a hypothetical dark matter candidate, made up of very light particles that could potentially address long-standing mysteries in the field of astrophysics. The recent study by Smarra and his colleagues was aimed at probing the possible presence of this type of dark matter in our galaxy via data collected by the European Pulsar Timing Array.

"We were inspired by previous efforts in this field, especially by the work of Porayko and her collaborators," Smarra said. "Thanks to the longer duration and the improved precision of our dataset, we were able to put more stringent constraints on the presence of ultralight dark matter in the Milky Way,"

The recent paper by the European Pulsar Timing Array makes different assumptions than those made by other studies carried out in the past. Instead of probing interactions between dark matter and ordinary matter, it assumes that these interactions only occur via gravitational effects.

"We assumed that dark matter interacts with ordinary matter only through gravitational interaction," Smarra explained. "This is a rather robust claim: in fact, the only sure thing we know about dark matter is that it interacts gravitationally. In a few words, dark matter produces potential wells in which pulsar radio beams travel. But the depth of these wells is periodic in time; therefore, the travel time of the radio beams from pulsars to the Earth changes with a distinctive periodicity as well."

New constraints on the presence of ultralight dark matter in the Milky Way, Ingrid Fadelli, Phys.org.

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