Galaxy cluster Abell 1689 seems to be held together by swaths of unseen dark matter; blue shows its theoretically inferred location. But could dark matter be an illusion? Credit: NASA

The decay of sterile neutrinos as signal of dark matter presence

Un gruppo di astrofisici dell’Università di Leiden, guidati da Alexey Boyarsky, potrebbero aver identificato alcune tracce della presenza di materia scura attraverso la rivelazione di una nuova particella, il neutrino sterile, un ipotetico tipo di neutrino che non interagisce con nessuna delle interazioni fondamentali. Intanto, qualche giorno fa, un altro gruppo di ricercatori di Harvard hanno riportato risultati simili.

The two groups this week reported that they have found an indirect signal from dark matter in the spectra of galaxies and clusters of galaxies. They made this discovery independent of one another, but came to the same conclusion: a tiny spike is hidden in the X-ray spectra of the Perseus galaxy cluster, at a frequency that cannot be explained by any known atomic transition. The Harvard group see the same spike in many other galaxy clusters, while Boyarsky also finds it in the nearby Andromeda galaxy. The researchers put it down to the decay of a new kind of neutrino, called ‘sterile’ because it has no interaction with other known neutrinos.

A sterile neutrino does have mass, and so could be responsible for the missing dark matter.

The first indications for the existence of dark matter in space were found more than eighty years ago, but there are still many questions surrounding this invisible matter. Sterile neutrinos are a highly attractive candidate for the dark matter particle, because they only call for a minor extension of the already known and extensively tested standard model for elementary particles. Boyarsky and his colleagues have already had this extension of the standard model ready for some time, but were waiting for the first observation of the mysterious particle. Measurements at higher resolution will shed light on the matter, and there is reason to hope that the spectral line just discovered will finally eliminate the problem of the missing mass.

University of Leiden: Glimmer of light in the search for dark matter

arXiv: An unidentified line in X-ray spectra of the Andromeda galaxy and Perseus galaxy cluster 

arXiv: Detection of An Unidentified Emission Line in the Stacked X-ray spectrum of Galaxy Clusters

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