Dark Matter

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In astronomy and cosmology, dark matter is a hypothetical form of matter that is undetectable by its emitted electromagnetic radiation, but whose presence can be inferred from gravitational effects on visible matter.[1] According to present observations of structures larger than galaxies, as well as Big Bang cosmology, dark matter and dark energy could account for the vast majority of the (missing) mass in the observable universe.

Dark matter was postulated by Fritz Zwicky in 1934, to partially account for evidence of "missing mass" in the universe, including the rotational speeds of galaxies, orbital velocities of galaxies in clusters, gravitational lensing of background objects by galaxy clusters such as the Bullet Cluster, and the temperature distribution of hot gas in galaxies and clusters of galaxies. Fritz Zwicky is the "Father of Dark Matter," coining the term itself, as well as gravitational lensing and the sky survey technique.

For lessons on the topic of Dark Matter, follow this link.

Dark matter is believed to play a central role in structure formation and galaxy evolution, and has measurable effects on the anisotropy of the cosmic microwave background. All these lines of evidence suggest that galaxies, clusters of galaxies, and the universe as a whole contain far more matter than that which interacts with electromagnetic radiation: the remainder is frequently called the "dark matter component," even though there is a small amount of baryonic dark matter. The largest part of dark matter, which does not interact with electromagnetic radiation, is not only "dark" but also, by definition, utterly transparent.

The vast majority of the dark matter in the universe is believed to be nonbaryonic, which means that it contains no atoms and that it does not interact with ordinary matter via electromagnetic forces. The nonbaryonic dark matter includes neutrinos, and possibly hypothetical entities such as axions, or supersymmetric particles. Unlike baryonic dark matter, nonbaryonic dark matter does not contribute to the formation of the elements in the early universe ("big bang nucleosynthesis") and so its presence is revealed only via its gravitational attraction. In addition, if the particles of which it is composed are supersymmetric, they can undergo annihilation interactions with themselves resulting in observable by-products such as photons and neutrinos ("indirect detection").[3]

Nonbaryonic dark matter is classified in terms of the mass of the particle(s) that is assumed to make it up, and/or the typical velocity dispersion of those particles (since more massive particles move more slowly). There are three prominent hypotheses on nonbaryonic dark matter, called Hot Dark Matter (HDM), Warm Dark Matter (WDM), and Cold Dark Matter (CDM); some combination of these is also possible. The most widely discussed models for nonbaryonic dark matter are based on the Cold Dark Matter hypothesis, and the corresponding particle is most commonly assumed to be a neutralino. Hot dark matter might consist of (massive) neutrinos. Cold dark matter would lead to a "bottom-up" formation of structure in the universe while hot dark matter would result in a "top-down" formation scenario.[4]

As important as dark matter is believed to be in the universe, direct evidence of its existence and a concrete understanding of its nature have remained elusive. Though the theory of dark matter remains the most widely accepted theory to explain the anomalies in observed galactic rotation, some alternative theories such as modified Newtonian dynamics and tensor-vector-scalar gravity have been proposed. None of these alternatives, however, has garnered equally widespread support in the scientific community.[1]