Dark Matter

Why We Believe in It and How We Intend to Find It
By Alex Sparrow

Abstract In this article we look at the subject of dark matter, an elusive substance believed to form much of our universe. Analysing the evidence for its existence, we find that the need for dark matter has arisen from observations of celestial motion and from our current theories of the birth and formation of the universe. We then look through possible candidates for dark matter type materials which have not so far revealed themselves to our most powerful telescopes. Hot, cold and baryonic dark matter are likely contributors, though no one is quite sure yet of what exactly these are composed. Next dark energy, a still stranger entity which acts as a form of negative pressure in the universe, accelerating its expansion. This turns out to neatly complement our current theories of dark matter, providing the extra ballast needed to fill the so called “missing mass” problem in the universe. In order to balance the debate, we turn to alternative theories that explain the phenomena herein ascribed to dark matter. Many of these theories introduce added complications without offering an enhanced understanding. However, in understanding Mtheory – currently popular as an expansion of string theory – we see that dark matter may be an effect of interacting branes or perhaps caused by graviton leakage between parallel universes. Whilst seen by some as avant garde, this path may eventually lead to the most elegant explanation of missing mass. Finally we look at the inherently difficult experiments that might one day reveal dark matter – a substance that by its very nature is not directly visible to us. Introduction The concept of dark matter has existed now in various forms for almost a century, and yet undeniable proof of its existence still evades our ever progressing ability to search the cosmos. Sceptics might see this as strong evidence that the many theories that predict its existence our somehow in error, and that we ought to attempt to fix them instead of embarking on a wild goose chase through the galaxy. However, dark matter is, by its very nature something that eludes conventional methods of detection. What is Dark Matter? The need for dark matter arose from research conducted by Fritz Zwicky in 1933. He attempted to estimate the total mass of the Coma cluster of galaxies by working backwards from the observed motion of galaxies in the outer rim of this cluster (see Gravity box out). He was surprised to find a glaring inconsistency with traditional estimates of the cluster's mass based on the brightness of the cluster. His calculations gave a mass 400 times greater than the traditional estimates. He inferred from this that the huge majority of the matter in the cluster must be The Coma cluster of galaxies [4] invisible (i.e. it neither significantly absorbs nor reflects electromagnetic radiation), and thus Dark Matter was born.

Some time after this, the case for dark matter's existence was further reinforced when questions Gravity arose concerning how the universe formed into Dark matter's very existence is the structures we see today e.g. Stars, galaxies, based upon our current clusters etc. It is believed that the galaxy formed in understanding of gravity - Einstein's a “smallest first” fashion. The formation of these General Relativity. Put simply, there smaller structures is best explained by dark exists a force between any two matter. particles, proportional to the product Since, the only hypothesised property of dark of their respective masses and matter is that we are unable to detect it, one initial inversely proportional to the square conclusion might be that it is nothing more than a of the distance between them. At thin soup of matter occupying empty space. large distances this force acts Although, the density of such matter is tiny, the minutely but to great effect, shaping vast tracts of empty space might multiply this every phenomenon you care to effect to explain our “missing mass”. Additionally, name from black holes to galaxies. mass might be contained in “brown dwarfs” It has been suggested that (bodies smaller than stars unable to support our understanding of gravity may be nuclear fusion – thus emitting no radiation) and incorrect, causing gravity to exert a “MACHOS” (huge objects drifting through space much stronger force at large without attachment to a solar system [7]). Despite distances (see Alternative this, according to current estimates based on our Theories). knowledge of the big bang, so-called baryonic dark matter - i.e. that composed primarily of protons and neutrons – accounts for a tiny fraction of this missing mass [1]. We are therefore led inexorably to conclude that dark matter is of a very different structure to anything we currently understand. Possible Dark Matter Candidates Aside from the aforementioned baryonic dark matter, many other candidates have been proposed. These can be grouped into three primary categories: 1. Hot Dark Matter consists of particles travelling at relativistic velocities. The principal known particle in this class is the neutrino. First hypothesised by Wolfgang Pauli in 1931 [2] to explain the motion of beta particles created in a radioactive decay. Neutrinos are currently believed to be massless though recent experiments suggest its mass may be non-zero. Since neutrinos interact only very weakly with matter, they might perhaps explain the missing mass problem. As it turns out, neutrinos can only account for part of the “missing mass”. Since they move at relativistic velocities, an abundance of neutrinos at the time of the big bang would have hindered the formation of small structures like stars – they move too fast to clump together [3]. Therefore, hot dark matter can only form part of our solution. 2. Cold Dark Matter is, as you might guess, composed of non-relativistic particles. Baryonic matter must make up only a small fraction of this and so we look to exotic, asyet undiscovered particles to make up the deficit. One candidate is the Axion which sprung out of the recent field of quantum chromodynamics. Models of this particle's birth during the big bang suggest Axions may have been created in great abundance though immediately robbed of kinetic energy, they now exist as a “cold” fluid known as a Cryogenic Dark Matter Search [5] Bose-Einstein condensate. Thus far no experiment has revealed their existence.

Two further possibilities for the bulk of cold dark matter have been put forward. Known as SIMPs (Strongly Interacting Massive Particle) and WIMPs (weakly interacting massive particle). It should be stressed that these particles are purely hypothetical and by there very nature, very difficult to detect. Several experiments are currently under way to detect WIMPs. Perhaps the most promising is the Cryogenic Dark Matter Search – located deep in a disused Minnesota mine shaft. Scientists use crystals coated in metal and cooled to superconducting temperatures. They hope that a passing WIMP will cause a vibration in the crystal lattice [6], creating enough heat to cause a change in the metal's resistance. If dark matter does exist, it must primarily comprise cold dark matter. The jury is still very much out on exactly what this comprises. Dark Energy The history of Dark Energy dates back to 1915 when Einstein his published his ground breaking paper on General Relativity. In it he almost completely revised Newton's long standing theory of gravitation. Gravity was non longer depicted as a simple force within a static universe. Einstein envisaged a four dimensional space-time, twisted by massive objects to create the gravitational wells that we observe as a force. In constructing an equation to describe the state of the universe, Einstein was shocked to find that his equation predicted an expanding universe. Believing that the universe was in a steady state he added the cosmological constant Λ to counteract this expansion. Two problems were found with this approach, which Einstein would later refer to as the greatest blunder of his life. Firstly, Einstein's quick fix led to an unstable universe that would balloon outwards or rapidly shrink in the presence of a tiny inconsistency. Secondly, in 1929 Edwin Hubble discovered that the universe was in fact expanding. Einstein's cosmological constant was deemed unnecessary and consigned to scientific history books. That is until 1998 when several independent researchers measuring the red shift from supernovae (exploding stars at the end of their life) and found that the expansion of the universe is actually accelerating. This suggests that Einstein was right to add a cosmological constant to his equations, although in this case one that acts against gravity, causing the expansion to hasten with time. Furthermore, dark energy may perfectly complement dark matter in that it provides the additional gravitational effect so far missing from dark matter. Physically speaking, dark energy can be thought of as an invisible energy that permeates the whole of space. Happily, quantum mechanics predicts just such a field – zero point energy. It would seem therefore, that everything is resolved within this particular field. And it would be, but for one crucial problem. The zero point energy predicted by quantum mechanics is of the order of 10120 times greater than the observed cosmological constant. This problem known as the cosmological constant problem will need to be fully resolved by physicists if dark energy is to enter the realm of fully accepted theories. Einstein [8] Alternative Views Since much of this article is based upon possible answers to very complex questions, it is appropriate to include alternate explanations. Additionally, it should be noted that explanations involving extremely dense objects (e.g. Black holes) can be discounted since they are not totally invisible to us. The extreme density of these bodies causes an effect known as gravitational lensing where light passing these objects is slowed down and bent causing a visual anomaly observable from Earth. One obvious alternative to dark matter is the possibility that we may in some way misunderstand either gravity or mechanics on a galactic scale. One such theory proposed

by Finzi in 1963 modifies the gravitational equation to give increased force at large distances. While these theories are difficult to positively dispel, they do introduce added complications avoided by a theory of dark matter. Some might consider such an alternative a kind of solipsism that requires the formulation of laws that mimic the behaviour of dark matter without conceding its existence. Of the many theories competing to explain the mass discrepancy, MOND (Modified Newtonian Dynamics) [9] is one of the more prominent. Hypothesised in 1983 by Mordehai Milgrom, it modifies Newton's second law A graviton leaving a 'brane [11] Force=mass×acceleration so that below a certain mass×acceleration 2 a 0 , instead Force= acceleration . This makes the velocity of a star a0 flat (i.e. not dependent on its distance from the centre of the orbit), thus eliminating the primary invocation of dark matter. This change would never be observable on earth since Earth is locked in a permanent “acceleration” in orbit around the sun. However, it does not seem to address the secondary problem in the formation of structure in the universe, and thus should reasonably be discarded if we are to favour a simpler theory. One final theory that seems to have entered public consciousness recently is that of M-theory. The M standing for magical, mysterious or a number of other of other such words might seriously be considered to stand for membrane. M-theory places us in a universe governed by string theory, where adjacent universes exist side by side as so called 'branes. Whilst this theory has been much lauded for its simplicity and completeness, it has not yet garnered wholesale acceptance by scientists. Recent suggestions [10] by theoretical physicists that the motion of such branes might act to cause dark matter like behaviour within our universe. Other scientists predict that some form of leakage of gravity between universes might be responsible for the dark matter like effects we see. Detection Methods An important attribute of any successful scientific theory is the ability to collect supporting evidence. In this respect, dark matter may long be cast in doubt, since its attributes make it by definition a concept both nebulous and difficult to verify. Many experiments are currently planned or in progress with the aim of finding evidence of dark matter. Although it has been determined that baryonic matter can form only a small percentage of overall dark matter, astronomers are investigating MACHOs via the effect of microlensing. Examining the sky with ever more powerful telescopes it is now possible to observe the bending of light for very small objects. Although this is indeed interesting work, the full thrust of the dark matter search is focussed on finding cold dark matter in the form of WIMPs, SIMPs and neutralinos. Aside from the aforementioned experiment in Minesota, WIMPs are being investigated indirectly. It is believed that WIMPs accumulate in the sun, annihilating one another and producing a thin stream of neutrinos that can be detected on Earth. Whilst we are capable of detecting neutrinos, spotting relatively small numbers of them and distinguishing them from the constant flow that penetrates the earth has proved a difficult task. Conclusion This article really has only scratched the surface of a problem that straddles pretty much every aspect of modern physics from general relativity to string theory. Whether dark

matter exists or not, the search for it will undoubtedly bring us fresh understanding of the universe, and closer to the truth of its origin.

References [1] Freese et Al, Death of Stellar Baryonic Dark Matter Candidates [2] http://astron.berkeley.edu/~mwhite/darkmatter/hdm.html (03/01/2006)

[3] http://www.crystalinks.com/darkmatter.html (03/01/2006) [4] http://antwrp.gsfc.nasa.gov/apod/ap020203.html (03/01/2006) [5] http://cdms.berkeley.edu/public_pics/DSCN0145.JPG (04/01/2006) [6] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/WIMP (04/01/2006) [7] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Massive_compact_halo_object (04/01/2006) [8] http://www.sav.sk/uploads/a0054117906/Einstein%20-%20jazyk%20cb.jpg (10/01/2006) [9] http://www.astro.umd.edu/~ssm/mond/ (10/01/2006) [10] Mukohyama, D-brane as Dark Matter in Warped String Compactification [11]http://www.nevis.columbia.edu/~conrad/visuals/graviton.gif Bibliography [1] Stephen Hawking, A Brief History of Time [2] David Deutsch, The Fabric of Reality

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