In 2016, astronomers led by Pieter van Dokkum of Yale College printed a bombshell paper claiming the invention of a galaxy so dim, but so broad and heavy, that it have to be virtually completely invisible. They estimated that the galaxy, dubbed Dragonfly 44, is 99.99 % darkish matter.
A heated debate ensued about Dragonfly 44’s properties that continues to be unresolved. In the meantime, greater than 1,000 equally huge however faint galaxies have turned up.
Dragonfly 44 and its ilk are referred to as ultra-diffuse galaxies (UDGs). Whereas they are often as giant as the most important extraordinary galaxies, UDGs are exceptionally dim—so dim that, in telescope surveys of the sky, “it’s a job to filter out the noise with out by chance filtering out these galaxies,” mentioned Paul Bennet, an astronomer on the House Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, Maryland. The intense star-forming gasoline that’s plentiful in different galaxies appears to have vanished in UDGs, leaving solely a skeleton of aged stars.
Their existence has brought about a stir in galactic evolutionary concept, which did not predict them. “They didn’t flip up in simulations,” van Dokkum mentioned. “It’s important to do one thing particular to make a galaxy that huge and faint.”
Wild new theories have emerged to elucidate how Dragonfly 44 and different UDGs took place. And these big smudges of sunshine could also be offering contemporary proof of darkish matter’s invisible hand.
Too A lot Darkish Matter
As gravity brings clumps of gasoline and stars collectively, their mixed energies and momentums trigger the mashup to inflate and rotate. Ultimately a galaxy emerges.
There’s only one downside. As galaxies rotate, they need to come aside. They don’t seem to have sufficient mass—and thus gravity—to stay collectively. The idea of darkish matter was invented to supply the lacking gravity. On this image, a galaxy sits inside a bigger conglomeration of nonluminous particles. This darkish matter “halo” holds the spinning galaxy collectively.
One option to estimate a galaxy’s rotation pace, and thus its darkish matter content material, is by counting its spherical clusters of stars. “We don’t know why, from a concept standpoint,” Bennet mentioned, however the variety of these “globular clusters” correlates intently with these harder-to-measure properties. Within the 2016 paper, van Dokkum counted 94 globular clusters inside Dragonfly 44—a quantity that implied a very giant darkish matter halo, regardless of how little seen matter the galaxy has.
Nobody had ever seen something prefer it. Van Dokkum and co-authors steered that Dragonfly 44 may very well be a “failed Milky Method”: a galaxy with a Milky Method–sized darkish matter halo that underwent a mysterious occasion early on that robbed it of its star-forming gasoline, leaving it with nothing however ageing stars and an enormous halo.
Or No Darkish Matter
The thing attracted the curiosity of one other camp of astronomers who argue that darkish matter doesn’t exist in any respect. These researchers clarify galaxies’ lacking gravity by tweaking Newton’s regulation of gravity as a substitute, an method referred to as modified Newtonian dynamics, or MOND.
In response to MOND, the modified gravitational pressure for every galaxy is calculated from the mass-to-light ratio of its stars—their whole mass divided by their luminosity. MOND theorists don’t speculate as to why the pressure would depend upon this ratio, however their advert hoc components matches the noticed speeds of most galaxies, with out the necessity to invoke darkish matter.
When information broke about Dragonfly 44, MOND advocate Stacy McGaugh, an astronomer at Case Western Reserve College, calculated from its mass-to-light ratio that it ought to rotate extra slowly than van Dokkum’s preliminary estimate indicated. The MOND calculation didn’t appear to suit the info.