Unlocking the secrets to dark matter

Unlocking the secrets to dark matter
An image of dark matter surrounding the Milky Way. Credit:
University of Miami

University of Miami astrophysicist Nico Cappelluti studies
the sky. An assistant professor in the Physics Department,
Cappelluti is intrigued by the cosmic phenomena of super
massive black holes, the nature of dark matter, and active
galactic nuclei, which is the very bright light source found
at the center of many galaxies.

Recently, Cappelluti published findings that could give insight
on a subject scientists and astrophysicists have been
investigating for decades: What is and where does it come from?

According to Esra Bulbul, an astrophysicist at the
Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics and co-author in
Cappelluti’s study, about 95 percent of the mass in the
universe is made up of material that is unknown and invisible
to scientists, that is dark matter.

Cappelluti’s study, published in The Astrophysical
and entitled, “Searching for the 3.5 keV line in
the deep fields with Chandra: the 10 MS observations,” examines
an interesting source that was captured by four
different telescopes each pointing in a different direction in
the sky. The source of light is unfamiliar and unrecognizable
to scientists and has caused quite a stir in the world of
astrophysics. Bulbul also found the while studying clusters of galaxies
in 2014.

“We use special telescopes to catch X-ray light in the sky, and
while looking at these X-rays, the telescopes noticed an
unexpected feature and captured a spectrum of light, which is
not produced by any known atomic emission,” said Cappelluti.
“This emission line is now called the 3.5 kiloelectron volt
(keV). One interpretation of this emission line is that it’s
produced by the decay of dark matter.”

The four telescopes that captured the 3.5 keV emission were
NASA’s NuSTAR , the European Space
Agency’s (ESA) XMM-Newton telescope, the Chandra telescope, and
the Suzaku telescope from Japan.

“This 3.5 keV emission line is unidentified. We truly don’t
know what it is,” said Bulbul. “But one theory is that it could
be a , which is also known
as decaying dark matter. What is truly interesting about Dr.
Cappelluti’s study is that he found this 3.5 keV line within
our own galaxy.”

“If confirmed, this will tell us what dark matter is and could
be one of the major discoveries in physics,” said Cappelluti.
“We know that the Milky Way is surrounded by dark matter. Think
of it as if we are living in a bubble of dark matter. But we
also want to have the statistical certainty of our detection,
so now we are putting together a Sterile Neutrino Task Force.”

This fall, several scientists from around the world, including
Harvard’s Bulbul, plan to gather at the University of Miami to
organize a massive data-mining project to investigate and
research this 3.5 keV line.

“The goal now is to continue to look at the sky until we obtain
more powerful operating telescopes with better resolution,
which won’t be ready until 2021, and share and analyze data
from other scientists who are trying to uncover the secrets of
dark matter,” said Bulbul.

Explore further:
A new twist in
the dark matter tale

More information: Searching for the 3.5 keV Line in the
Deep Fields with Chandra: the 10 Ms observations, arxiv.org/abs/1701.07932

Nico Cappelluti et al. Searching for the 3.5 keV Line in the
Deep Fields with Chandra: The 10 Ms Observations, The
Astrophysical Journal
(2018). DOI: 10.3847/1538-4357/aaaa68

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