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Deep space images shed light on dark matter

Last Updated on Friday, 10 July 2015 08:45
Published on Thursday, 09 July 2015 14:00

eso1528aFirst Results from the KiDS Survey (montage). Credit: Kilo-Degree Survey Collaboration/A. Tudorica & C. Heymans/ESO. Click for a full-size image

New images of deep space are helping to shed light on dark matter, the invisible material that accounts for more than 80 per cent of all the matter in the Universe. The images are the first from an international collaboration, involving Durham University, which is seeking to understand the amount of dark matter in the Universe and its distribution in groups of galaxies – such as the group that houses the Milky Way.

 

The study, accepted for publication in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, hopes also to improve scientists’ knowledge of how galaxies are formed. Being able to explain dark matter, which is little understood, would represent a major scientific breakthrough, the researchers said.

 

The team analysed images of more than two million galaxies, typically 5.5 billion light years away. They combined these unique images with the identification of 20,000 groups of galaxies that are located between the Milky Way and these more distant galaxies.

 

Combining this information enabled the team to measure the influence of dark matter on the shape of background galaxies by examining how light from those galaxies is distorted by the gravitational pull of massive clumps of dark matter in which groups of galaxies reside.

 

The researchers found that groups of galaxies typically contain 30 times more dark matter than the visible matter seen in stars. They also showed that the brightest galaxy in each group nearly always sits at the centre of the dark matter clump that surrounds it. This is the clearest demonstration to date of this phenomenon, predicted by theories of galaxy formation.

 

The research used images captured by the VLT Survey Telescope at the European Southern Observatory in Paranal, Chile, by the Kilo-Degree Survey (KiDS), and distance information of foreground galaxies measured at the Anglo-Australian Telescope in Australia, by the Galaxy And Mass Assembly (GAMA) survey. GAMA is an international collaboration and the work to identify groups of galaxies is co-led by researchers at Durham University and the University of Western Australia.

 

The mass mapping study of more than two million galaxies is led by Leiden University, in the Netherlands, and was carried out in close collaboration with scientists from Durham University and University of Western Australia, while relying on a significant collaborative effort from many partners, including Edinburgh, Oxford and UCL universities in the UK and scientists based in Italy, Germany, and Australia as well. The findings are just the start of a major programme to exploit the immense datasets coming from the survey telescopes and the data are now being made available to scientists worldwide through the ESO archive.

 

Dr Peder Norberg, Royal Society University Research Fellow in Durham University’s Institute for Computational Cosmology, and key investigator in the GAMA team, said: “The findings using a combination of GAMA and KiDS data are very encouraging. This is a first step towards better understanding the relationship between visible and dark matter, which is only made possible thanks to sophisticated instrumentation and the significant efforts of our international team of scientists.”

 

Dr Massimo Viola, of Leiden Observatory, in the Netherlands, who led the study, said: “We look forward to making many more discoveries about this most elusive of substances, dark matter, in the months ahead.”

 

Images and captions

 

First Results from the KiDS Survey (montage). Left, a group of galaxies mapped by KiDS. Right, the same area of sky, but with the invisible dark matter rendered in pink. Credit: Kilo-Degree Survey Collaboration/A. Tudorica & C. Heymans/ESO

First Results from the KiDS Survey (visible light). A group of galaxies mapped by KiDS. Credit: Kilo-Degree Survey Collaboration/A. Tudorica & C. Heymans/ESO

First Results from the KiDS Survey (dark matter). Invisible dark matter is seen rendered in pink on top of the visible-light image. Credit: Kilo-Degree Survey Collaboration/A. Tudorica & C. Heymans/ESO


Images are also available on request from Durham University Marketing and Communications Office on +44 (0)191 334 6075.

 


Media contacts

 

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Science contacts

 

Dr Peder Norberg
Royal Society University Research Fellow
Institute for Computational Cosmology
Durham University
Tel: +44 (0)191 334 3530
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Further information

 

Durham University’s part in the work has been funded by the Royal Society and a European Research Council Starting Grant.

 

Dark matter halo properties of GAMA galaxy groups from 100 square degrees of KiDS weak lensing data”, Viola M. et al, Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, in press.

 


Notes for editors

 

The Royal Astronomical Society National Astronomy Meeting (NAM 2015) will take place in Venue Cymru, Llandudno, Wales, from 5-9 July. NAM 2015 will be held in conjunction with the annual meetings of the UK Solar Physics (UKSP) and Magnetosphere Ionosphere Solar-Terrestrial physics (MIST) groups. The conference is principally sponsored by the Royal Astronomical Society (RAS) and the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC). Follow the conference on Twitter

 

The Royal Astronomical Society (RAS), founded in 1820, encourages and promotes the study of astronomy, solar-system science, geophysics and closely related branches of science. The RAS organises scientific meetings, publishes international research and review journals, recognizes outstanding achievements by the award of medals and prizes, maintains an extensive library, supports education through grants and outreach activities and represents UK astronomy nationally and internationally. Its more than 3800 members (Fellows), a third based overseas, include scientific researchers in universities, observatories and laboratories as well as historians of astronomy and others. Follow the RAS on Twitter

 

The Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) is keeping the UK at the forefront of international science and tackling some of the most significant challenges facing society such as meeting our future energy needs, monitoring and understanding climate change, and global security. The Council has a broad science portfolio and works with the academic and industrial communities to share its expertise in materials science, space and ground-based astronomy technologies, laser science, microelectronics, wafer scale manufacturing, particle and nuclear physics, alternative energy production, radio communications and radar. It enables UK researchers to access leading international science facilities for example in the area of astronomy, the European Southern Observatory. Follow STFC on Twitter

 

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