Author: Pieter van Dokkum, Zili Shen, Michael A. Keim, Sebastian Trujillo-Gomez, Shany Danieli, Dhruba Dutta Chowdhury, Roberto Abraham, Charlie Conroy, JM Diederik Kruijssen, Daisuke Nagai, Aaron Romanowsky
First author’s institution: Yale University, New Haven, CT, USA
Status: Published in Nature [open access]available on arXiv
The nature of dark matter is one of physics’ greatest mysteries. All we really know about this strange type of matter is that it does not experience anyone forces other than gravity. This makes it totally invisible and allows it to pass through other matter, such as stars, planets and us, almost completely unnoticed. Despite this, evidence from recent decades means that we know that dark matter exists, and that there is a lot of it – roughly six times more than all visible matter in our universe! In addition, we know that most major astronomical structures, such as galaxies and galaxhoparare embedded in large, spherical glorior of dark matter.
One of the most striking evidences of dark matter is Bullet Cluster, shown in Figure 1. This image is actually the result of two galaxy clusters that have crashed into each other and now lie side by side. I rosa, den hot, visible gas in these clusters are shown, which have been drawn towards the middle of the two clusters of features forces. Using weak gravitational lensing to study the light from galaxies in the background of this image, we can conclude where matter is in these clusters, as shown by the blue areas. The fact that the distributions of hot gas and mass do not overlap tells us that even though the usual substance in these clusters is stirred and drawn into the middle, there is some extra cluster material that flies past unhindered – our old friend, dark matter!
The same process can in principle take place on a smaller scale. Today’s newspaper provides evidence of two dwarf galaxies has previously experienced a collision similar to the ball cluster, and goes on to discuss how this may explain some of the strangest types of galaxies we observe in our universe.
This magazine is looking at NGC1052 galax groupand in particular two dwarf galaxies in this group, called DF2 and DF4. These galaxies are remarkable because they are ultradiffuse galaxies, which contains very few stars but has a diameter similar to other galaxies, which means that they are very weak. Many ultra-diffuse galaxies, including DF2 and DF4, also contain very little dark matter, and the reason why they differ from other galaxies in this way is still unknown.
But, we may be approaching an answer! The authors suggest that a collision between two galaxies, the predecessors of DF2 and DF4, occurred about 8 billion years ago. Figure 2 shows what such a collision would have looked like and what the result of it would be today.
Such a collision can result in positions and velocities of DF2 and DF4 that are consistent with observations: that they are separated by a distance of 2.1 Mpc (about 7 million light-years) and move away from each other at 358 km / s. In addition, this collision can cause the dark matter halos and stellar components of these galaxies to separate, in the same way that occurred in the Bullet Cluster, leaving two galaxies with very little dark matter left: DF2 and DF4. The authors also predict that parts of these galaxies would be stripped away, leading to an arc with about 10 smaller galaxies, as well as two “dark galaxies“, Almost entirely made of dark matter!
A cosmic mess
To back up their claims, the authors present observational data for DF2 and DF4, as well as the area between them. The image of this region is shown in Figure 3, which has an eerie resemblance to Figure 2! Incredibly, the observations match exactly what is predicted by a ball-cluster-like collision between two galaxies: a chain of small, weak galaxies located on a line between DF2 and DF4 can be seen, as well as a companion galaxy near each of them. two, both of which have been shown to consist almost entirely of dark matter.
This work provides an origin story for the galaxies in this region of the universe, and explains their unusual properties – specifically why some have so little dark matter, and some have much more than average. Similar collisions may explain other galaxies with an atypical content of dark matter. Crucially, however, the formation of these systems will depend on the properties of the galaxies’ dark matter halos. Studying galaxies that have been torn apart like this can help us limit ourselves properties of dark matterand get one step closer to finally understanding this elusive part of the universe.
Astrobite edited by Sarah Bodansky
Selected image credit: Figure 2 from today’s newspaper, van Dokkum et al., 2022
About Roan Haggar
I am a doctoral student at the University of Nottingham and work with hydrodynamic simulations of galaxy clusters to study the evolution of incident galaxies. I also run a portable planetarium that we take around to schools in the area. My more down-to-earth hobbies include rock climbing and going to music venues that I have not been to before.
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