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Researchers found pockets of dark matter in individual galaxies, which could help them create more accurate simulations of outer space.

By Nashia Baker
September 14, 2020
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dark matter halo surrounding galaxy
Credit: Getty / MARK GARLICK/SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY

The universe is full of out-of-this-world sights, like eclipses and shooting stars, but something that is less easy to see (and understand, for that matter) is dark matter, which is what gives the universe its structure. Up until now, it has not been photographed; it doesn't absorb or reflect light or interact with other space particles, making it virtually impossible to see. But according to CNN, scientists recently used the Hubble Space Telescope and the European Southern Observatory's Very Large Telescope in Chile to find dark matter while studying 11 galaxy clusters. The experts were able to spot galaxies within the galaxy clusters, which are formed from small pockets of dark matter, they reported in their new Science study.

This discovery could help scientists determine if they are truly representing the universe correctly with simulations created on Earth. "Galaxy clusters are ideal laboratories to understand if computer simulations of the universe reliably reproduce what we can infer about dark matter and its interplay with luminous matter," said Massimo Meneghetti, lead study author and adjunct professor at the National Institute for Astrophysics—Observatory of Astrophysics and Space Science of Bologna in Italy, in a statement.

These new findings are exciting, since they differ from current theoretical models about the distribution of dark matter in galaxy clusters. "We have done a lot of careful testing in comparing the simulations and data in this study, and our finding of the mismatch persists. One possible origin for this discrepancy is that we may be missing some key physics in the simulations," Meneghetti added. This new data is likely more accurate, since the Hubble telescope allowed the team to spot and size the dark matter in these clusters, which helps them determine a galaxy's total mass.

Priyamvada Natarajan, senior theorist on the research team and theoretical astrophysicist at Yale University, shared in a statement that while the current models mapped out on Earth haven't detected dark matter precisely, more research can help scientists sharpen their understanding of this essential part of our universe. "This could signal a gap in our current understanding of the nature of dark matter and its properties, as these exquisite data have permitted us to probe the detailed distribution of dark matter on the smallest scales," she said.

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