Science and Exploration

The Mystery Of A Galaxy’s Missing Dark Matter Deepens

By Keith Cowing
Press Release
July 5, 2021
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The Mystery Of A Galaxy’s Missing Dark Matter Deepens
NGC 1052-DF2

When astronomers using NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope uncovered an oddball galaxy that looked like it didn’t have much dark matter, some thought the finding was hard to believe and looked for a simpler explanation.
Dark matter, after all, is the invisible glue that makes up the bulk of the universe’s matter. All galaxies appear to be dominated by it; in fact, galaxies are thought to form inside immense halos of dark matter.

So, finding a galaxy lacking the invisible stuff is an extraordinary claim that challenges conventional wisdom. It would have the potential to upset theories of galaxy formation and evolution.

This Hubble Space Telescope snapshot reveals an unusual “see-through” galaxy. The giant cosmic cotton ball is so diffuse and its ancient stars so spread out that distant galaxies in the background can be seen through it. Called an ultra-diffuse galaxy, this galactic oddball is almost as wide as the Milky Way, but it contains only 1/200th the number of stars as our galaxy.

The ghostly galaxy doesn’t appear to have a noticeable central region, spiral arms, or a disk. Researchers calculated a more accurate distance to the galaxy, named NGC 1052-DF2, or DF2, by using Hubble to observe about 5,400 aging red giant stars. Red giant stars all reach the same peak brightness, so they are reliable yardsticks to measure distances to galaxies. The research team estimates that DF2 is 72 million light-years from Earth.

They say the distance measurement solidifies their claim that DF2 lacks dark matter, the invisible glue that makes up the bulk of the universe’s contents. The galaxy contains at most 1/400th the amount of dark matter that the astronomers had expected. The observations were taken between December 2020 and March 2021 with Hubble’s Advanced Camera for Surveys.

Image credit: SCIENCE: NASA, ESA, STScI, Zili Shen (Yale), Pieter van Dokkum (Yale), Shany Danieli (IAS) IMAGE PROCESSING: Alyssa Pagan (STScI)

SpaceRef co-founder, Explorers Club Fellow, ex-NASA, Away Teams, Journalist, Space & Astrobiology, Lapsed climber.