We Might Be Detecting Dark Matter In The Milky Way


For a long time it was a good lead on dark matter. But then our hopes of finding dark matter in the center of the Milky Way faded. But now they seem to be coming and in full glory.

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Image by WikiImages from Pixabay

Physicists have known for years that the center of our galaxy is spitting out energy in the form of gamma-rays – the most energetic rays of the whole electromagnetic spectrum. But typically gamma-rays are only produced by the hottest and most extreme objects in the Universe like supernovae or their children – pulsars. But the source of gamma-rays from the center of the galaxy remained mysterious.

We see gamma-ray sources in many places of the Milky Way. And when it comes to most of them we actually understand them. But the gamma-rays from the center are different. They are called the galactic center excess (GCE) and its observed properties are hard to explain – at least when we take into consideration what we know about the layout of stars and gas in the Milky Way and a few other factors there are essentially two possible explanations of the gamma-rays coming from the center of our galaxy.

Either there is a population of high-energy and rapidly-rotating pulsars or – and much more interestingly – a concentrated cloud of dark matter can be found there and it is boiling and producing a lot of gamma-rays.

Until 2015 it seemed like a thrilling dilemma that gave us hope that we might figure out the troubles with dark matter right in the center of our own galaxy. But then a team from MIT and Princeton came with a study that seemed to indicate that the more likely answer are the pulsars leaving dark matter in the dark edges of the Universe.

But now its 2019 and things are happening. Rebecca Leane from MIT is leading a new team that took a good look at the research from 2015 and came to the conclusion that the previous mathematical model doesn't work as it should. It just is plain wrong. Mathematical and computer models are great and can do a lot of good – but we shouldn't trust them blindly as we should remember those models are initially created by humans are humans are prone to error.

Leane and her team took real data from the Fermi telescope and added an artificial dark matter signal – at least a signal that represents how it should look. And the result was that the original mathematical model from 2015 ignores the dark matter signal – just like it never existed in the first place. The model will just say that gamma-rays from the center of our galaxy are produced by pulsars. Even when the artificial signal was strengthened by a lot the model still didn't find any and still claimed pulsars were to blame.

On one hand – it is a disgrace of science. But on the other hand, it is a true celebration of the ability of science to admit to its own mistakes. But one more thing should be added – this isn't confirmation that the dark matter cloud exists. Just that the closed case is now opened again.


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