A mysterious signal picked up by NASA experts this week is pointing to the possible finding of a particle that may serve as an ideal contender for dark matter. The unknown X-ray signal was detected within distant space as part of an ongoing study examining galaxy clusters. NASA.gov News reveals this Wednesday, June 25, 2014, that this newfound indication could lead to a massive breakthrough for science if the particles turn out to be a specific type of constituent known as sterile neutrinos.
Although it’s far too early to confirm, the NASA mysterious signal is certainly a promising discovery for space researchers and science buffs alike. The mysterious X-ray reading was discovered as part of an in-depth investigation into a series of galaxy clusters. The devices used to pick up on this signal are the XMM-Newton and NASA’s very own Chandra X-ray Observatory system.
According to the report, one of the most popular theories is that these X-ray “beams” are being created by the slow decomposition of particles commonly called sterile neutrinos, which are prime contenders for the creation of the “secret” element, dark matter. It cannot be verified at this time whether dark matter in space is what’s really being picked up by our machines down near Earth, but it is an exciting prospect.
The Week News offers some background to this interesting finding. Most modern astronomers are under the impression that dark matter may compose as much as anywhere from 80 to 90 percent of the matter in our entire universe. However, the secret to this substance being so special is that it fails to produce nor absorb light that general matter sources — like electrons, protons, and neutrons — do. Furthermore, this light-conducive matter we humans are most familiar with is what composes a majority of what we commonly know in space, including stars and planets.
Dark matter, therefore, remains a big unknown, even to astronauts and NASA officials. The Chanda X-ray observatory has picked up that this mysterious signal emission has seen a recent “spike of intensity” within a highly particular wavelength of light. The faint discharge was picked up within a far off galaxy cluster, the Perseus galaxy system. Researchers hope that this discovery could finally mean some substantial answers to this secret of the stars.
“We know that the dark matter explanation is a long shot, but the pay-off would be huge if we're right,” said Esra Bulbul of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA) in Cambridge, Mass. who led the study. “So we're going to keep testing this interpretation and see where it takes us.”
At this time, space experts are under the belief that the X-ray emission line is potentially coming from a sterile neutrino and its gradual decay. Although complex, sterile neutrinos can be defined as a theoretical neutrino form that can only make a connection with normal matter (i.e., non-dark matter sources) through gravity. Thus, this signal from these sterile neutrinos could be essential to unraveling the mystery of this unworldly constituent.
“We have a lot of work to do before we can claim, with any confidence, that we’ve found sterile neutrinos,” said Maxim Markevitch, a co-author from NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. “But just the possibility of finding them has us very excited.”