“Lucky Discovery” degli astrofisici spiega come le galassie potrebbero esistere senza la materia oscura

Bella galassia a spirale

Nelle simulazioni, le collisioni causano la perdita di materiale di ammassi stellari più piccoli.

in un modo nuovo astronomia naturale Un team internazionale guidato da astrofisici dell’Università della California, Irvine e Pomona College riferisce come quando galassie più piccole entrano in collisione con galassie più grandi, le galassie più grandi possono spogliare le galassie più piccole della loro materia oscura: materiale che non possiamo vedere direttamente, ma gli astrofisici pensano che sia così dovrebbe essere. Esiste perché senza gli effetti della gravità, non possono spiegare cose come i movimenti delle stelle della galassia.

È un meccanismo che ha il potenziale per spiegare come le galassie potrebbero esistere senza la materia oscura, qualcosa che in precedenza si pensava impossibile.

È iniziato nel 2018 quando gli astrofisici Shany Danieli e Pieter van Dokkum di[{” attribute=””>Princeton University and Yale University observed two galaxies that seemed to exist without most of their dark matter.

“We were expecting large fractions of dark matter,” said Danieli, who’s a co-author on the latest study. “It was quite surprising, and a lot of luck, honestly.”

The lucky find, which van Dokkum and Danieli reported on in a Nature paper in 2018 and in an Astrophysical Journal Letters paper in 2020, threw the galaxies-need-dark-matter paradigm into turmoil, potentially upending what astrophysicists had come to see as a standard model for how galaxies work.

Dark Matter Distribution in Simulated Galaxy Group

Dark matter distribution in a simulated galaxy group, with brighter areas showing higher concentrations of dark matter. Circles show close-up images of the stellar light associated with two galaxies lacking dark matter. If these galaxies had dark matter, they would appear as bright regions in the main image. Credit:Morena et al.

“It’s been established for the last 40 years that galaxies have dark matter,” said Jorge Moreno, an astronomy professor at Pomona College, who’s the lead author of the new paper. “In particular, low-mass galaxies tend to have significantly higher dark matter fractions, making Danieli’s finding quite surprising. For many of us, this meant that our current understanding of how dark matter helps galaxies grow needed an urgent revision.”

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The team ran computer models that simulated the evolution of a chunk of the universe – one about 60 million light years across – starting soon after the Big Bang and running all the way to the present.

The team found seven galaxies devoid of dark matter. After several collisions with neighboring galaxies 1,000-times more massive, they were stripped of most of their material, leaving behind nothing but stars and some residual dark matter.

“It was pure serendipity,” said Moreno. “The moment I made the first images, I shared them immediately with Danieli, and invited her to collaborate.”

Robert Feldmann, a professor at the University of Zurich who designed the new simulation, said that “this theoretical work shows that dark matter-deficient galaxies should be very common, especially in the vicinity of massive galaxies.”

UCI’s James Bullock, an astrophysicist who’s a world-renowned expert on low-mass galaxies, described how he and the team didn’t build their model just so they could create galaxies without dark matter – something he said makes the model stronger, because it wasn’t designed in any way to create the collisions that they eventually found. “We don’t presuppose the interactions,” said Bullock.

Confirming that galaxies lacking dark matter can be explained in a universe where there’s lots of dark matter is a sigh of relief for researchers like Bullock, whose career and everything he’s discovered therein hinges on dark matter being the thing that makes galaxies behave the way they do.

“The observation that there are dark matter-free galaxies has been a little bit worrying to me.” said Bullock. “We have a successful model, developed over decades of hard work, where most of the matter in the cosmos is dark. There is always the possibility that nature has been fooling us.”

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But, Moreno said, “you don’t have to get rid of the standard dark matter paradigm.”

Now that astrophysicists know how a galaxy might lose its dark matter, Moreno and his collaborators hope the findings inspire researchers who look at the night sky to look for real-world massive galaxies they might be in the process of stripping dark matter away from smaller ones.

“It still doesn’t mean this model is right,” Bullock said. “A real test will be to see if these things exist with the frequency and general characteristics that match our predictions.”

As part of this new work, Moreno, who has indigenous roots, received permission from Cherokee leaders to name the seven dark matter-free galaxies found in their simulations in honor of the seven Cherokee clans: Bird, Blue, Deer, Long Hair, Paint, Wild Potato and Wolf.

“I feel a personal connection to these galaxies,” said Moreno, who added that, just as the more massive galaxies robbed the smaller galaxies of their dark matter, “many people of indigenous ancestry were stripped of our culture. But our core remains, and we are still thriving.”

Reference: “Galaxies lacking dark matter produced by close encounters in a cosmological simulation” by Jorge Moreno, Shany Danieli, James S. Bullock, Robert Feldmann, Philip F. Hopkins, Onur Çatmabacak, Alexander Gurvich, Alexandres Lazar, Courtney Klein, Cameron B. Hummels, Zachary Hafen, Francisco J. Mercado, Sijie Yu, Fangzhou Jiang, Coral Wheeler, Andrew Wetzel, Daniel Anglés-Alcázar, Michael Boylan-Kolchin, Eliot Quataert, Claude-André Faucher-Giguère and Dušan Kereš, 14 February 2022, Nature Astronomy.
DOI: 10.1038/s41550-021-01598-4

Funding for the work came from the National Science Foundation, sabbatical leave support for Moreno from Pomona College and the Harry and Grace Steele Foundation, and, for Danieli, from NASA through Hubble Fellowship grant HST-HF2-51454.001-A awarded by the Space Telescope Science Institute, which is operated by the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy, Incorporated, under NASA contract NAS5-26555. Other collaborators include Francisco Mercado, Courtney Klein and Zachary Hafen, all from UCI.

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