Galaxy Halos Might Hold Clues to Solving the Mystery of Dark Matter

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The search for dark matter has taken one more step forward thanks to new supercomputer simulations presenting the growth of our "local Universe" from the Big Bang to the current day. Physicists say their simulations might increase understanding of dark matter, the mysterious matter supposed to make up 85 percent of the mass of the known Universe. Carlos Frenk, Director of Durham University's Institute for Computational Cosmology, said "I've been losing sleep over this for the last 30 years. Dark matter is the key to everything we know about galaxies, but we still don't know its exact nature. Understanding how galaxies formed holds the key to the dark matter mystery." Researchers consider clumps of dark matter or halos that arose from the initial Universe, surrounded intergalactic gas and developed the origins of galaxies. Cosmological theory foretells that our own cosmic neighborhood should be swarming with millions of small halos, but only a few dozen small galaxies have been detected around the Milky Way. Frank added "We know there can't be a galaxy in every halo. The question is: 'Why not?'"
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The Durham scientists consider their simulations answer this question, presenting clearly how and why millions of halos around our galaxy and neighboring Andromeda failed to create galaxies and converted into barren worlds. Though, a few halos achieved to bypass this cosmic furnace by developing early and fast enough to grasp to their gas and ultimately form galaxies.

Professor Frenk, who received the Royal Astronomical Society's top award on Thursday, June 26, the Gold Medal for Astronomy, said: "We have learned that most dark matter halos are quite different from the 'chosen few' that are lit up by starlight. Thanks to our simulations we know that if our theories of dark matter are correct then the Universe around us should be full of halos that failed to make a galaxy. Perhaps astronomers will one day figure out a way to find them."

Chief scientist Dr Till Sawala, in the Institute for Computational Cosmology, at Durham University, said the study was the first to simulate the growth of our "Local Group" of galaxies, comprising the Milky Way, Andromeda, their satellite galaxies and numerous remote small galaxies, in its entireness. The detail look at the Local Group is portion of the larger EAGLE project presently being started by cosmologists at Durham University and the University of Leiden in the Netherlands. EAGLE is one of the first efforts to simulate from the start the development of galaxies in an illustrative volume of the Universe. By looking into the simulated Universe, the scientists find galaxies that look strangely like our own, bordered by uncountable dark matter halos, only a minor fraction of which hold galaxies. The Durham-led simulation was done on the "Cosmology Machine", which is the part of the DiRAC national supercomputing facility for study in astrophysics and particle physics financed by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills over the STFC. The Cosmology Machine, grounded at Durham University, has more than 5,000 times the calculating power of classic PCs, and over 10,000 times the quantity of memory.

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