September 22, 2014

23.05.10-Are Black Holes the Key to Dark Matter?

Artist's impression of a torus surrounding a massive black hole. (Credit V. Beckmann.NASA).

An artist’s conception of a gas torus surrounding a super-massive black hole. (Credit: V.Beckmann/NASA).

   For the past few decades, astronomers have been hot on the trail of the “missing” part of our universe. About 23 percent of our universe appears to be comprised of dark matter, non-luminous material that gives itself away only via gravitational interaction. Pinning down dark matter has been the name of the cosmological game, and researchers have looked at everything from MACHOs (Massive Compact Halo Objects) to WIMPs (Weakly Interacting Massive Particles) to everything conceivable, however bizarre or mundane, in between. Now, researchers at the National Autonomous University of Mexico may have gained a key insight into the nature of dark matter, as well as the evolution of galaxies and how the super-massive black holes at their heart are formed. Researchers William Lee and Xavier Hernandez studied the absorption rates of these massive beasts, noting how simulations stacked up with what we observe in the universe we see today. Their findings suggest that dark matter at the cores of galaxies should be fairly homogonous; at a critical mass larger than seven solar masses per cubic light year, a runaway effect occurs, twisting and altering galaxies from the stately whirlpool we see today. Of course, with this mass limit constraint, one could easily ask the question; how did these black holes reach multi-million solar mass status in the first place?  Further studies and data gathered by platforms such as the James Webb Space Telescope will no doubt shed “new light” (bad pun intended) on dark matter as well as tweak standard models and refine the nature of its role in the evolution of the cosmos.

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