Researchers at Ohio State University and University of Colorado Boulder published a study describing a way to track dark matter using the same techniques used to track meteoroids as they pass through Earth’s atmosphere.
When meteors hit the atmosphere (and become meteoroids), they leave a trail of ionized particles. The research team says dark matter could create a similar trail when it interacts with observable matter.
The authors of the paper published on arXiv say a similar technique could be used to detect dark matter that enters Earth’s atmosphere. However, the researchers say that the side effects of dark matter’s interactions with particles in Earth’s atmosphere can be detected with terrestrial radar systems if the mass and nuclear interactions of the dark matter are large enough.
Dark matter is notoriously difficult to detect with normal instrumentation (which is why it’s called “dark”). Current theory says that dark matter could make up about 85% of the total mass of the universe. However, scientists can only deduce its presence through its gravitational effect on objects in the observable universe.
An improved method for estimating the amount of dark matter in the universe could help scientists gain a better understanding of galaxies’ structure and formation. Dark matter’s influence could partly depend on the size of its particles.
Paper co-author John Beacom, a professor of physics and astronomy at Ohio State University, said, “One of the reasons dark matter is so hard to detect could be because the particles are so massive. If the dark-matter mass is small, then the particles are common, but if the mass is large, the particles are rare.”
Beacom’s research team says its new method could introduce an additional level of precision in the search for dark matter. According to Beacom, current techniques don’t come with a way to, as he puts it, “check their own work.”
He said, “If scientists are unsure about what they’ve detected, a signal from cosmology could be checked in detail with the radar technique” described in the academic paper that he co-authored.
The new technique may still be going through peer review before it gets published somewhere other than arXiv. This academic paper repository has steadily improved its moderation of newly submitted papers, but does not provide peer review.
Beacom did acknowledge, “This is a totally new technique.”
If it does pass peer review, this may mean that Ohio State University could become known for something other than its marching band’s really cool halftime shows at football games – at least, in the scientific community. It can provide a better technique for getting an estimate on the amount of dark matter that exists in the universe.