Dark matter is infuriatingly evasive because it is believed to be composed of particles unable to absorb, reflect, or emit light. As a result, scientists cannot detect dark matter via observable electromagnetic radiation, meaning it cannot be seen directly.
However, dark matter is nevertheless known to exist because of the effect it has on objects that can be directly observed.
In order to explain observations such as the rotation of galaxies, for example, the Universe must have some hidden ingredient.
Astronomers have now advocated an audacious new plan to finally track down dark matter – by transforming the search for alien life into a hunt for the substance.
Using cutting-edge computer simulations of galaxies’ giant clusters, astronomers expect dark matter to be likely positioned towards the centres of galaxies.
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If or when dark matter does interact, it will involve an interaction involving the weak nuclear force – a fundamental force that underlies some forms of radioactivity.
Almost every time there is an encounter, a dark matter particle and a ‘regular’ particle simply slide on by each other without interaction.
However, dark matter and ordinary matter should very occasionally interact, allowing the dark matter particle to pass on some of its energy to the normal matter particle, in the process slowing the dark matter down.
Such rare interactions are especially common when two things occur: a particularly dense concentration of normal matter acts as a gravitational trap for dark matter, and where there is plenty of dark matter in the cosmic area.
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And both criteria may probably be met when exoplanets approach the Milky Way’s core.
The dark matter density in those areas is much higher than other areas of the Solar System, and king-size planets could collect dark matter particles in their centres.
They could be achieved via their powerful gravitational pull.
In such extreme high-density environments, normal matter can attract the dark matter to them, pulling it towards the centre.
But although such interactions would not just slow down dark matter to any observable level, they would warm the planet.
And additionally, dark matter particles may occasionally interact with themselves, destroying each other in an instantaneous energetic flash.
Again – this energy would be far too weak to observe directly, but over the course of billions of years, the flashes from countless interactions could contribute an extra source of heat to the planet.
As a result, exoplanets closer to to the galaxy’s centre should theoretically experience a significant amount of heating from dark matter, causing their temperatures to rise by thousands of degrees.
To test this, the temperatures of many exoplanets need to be checked — exactly the role of NASA’s forthcoming James Webb Space Telescope.
And this next-generation space satellite is pencilled in to launch in October next year.