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Rotation Curve of Galaxy:
Dynamical studies of the Universe began in the late 1950's. This meant that instead of just looking and classifying galaxies, astronomers began to study their internal motions (rotation for disk galaxies) and their interactions with each other, as in clusters. The question was soon developed of whether we were observing the mass or the light in the Universe. Most of what we see in galaxies is starlight. So clearly, the brighter the galaxy, the more stars, therefore the more massive the galaxy. By the early 1960's, there were indications that this was not always true, called the missing mass problem.
The first indications that there is a significant fraction of missing matter in the Universe was from studies of the rotation of our own Galaxy, the Milky Way. The orbital period of the Sun around the Galaxy gives us a mean mass for the amount of material inside the Sun's orbit. But, a detailed plot of the orbital speed of the Galaxy as a function of radius reveals the distribution of mass within the Galaxy. The simplest type of rotation is wheel rotation shown below.
To determine the rotation curve of the Galaxy, stars are not used due to interstellar extinction. Instead, 21-cm maps of neutral hydrogen are used. When this is done, one finds that the rotation curve of the Galaxy stays flat out to large distances, instead of falling off as in the figure above. This means that the mass of the Galaxy increases with increasing distance from the center.
The surprising thing is there is very little visible matter beyond the Sun's orbital distance from the center of the Galaxy. So, the rotation curve of the Galaxy indicates a great deal of mass, but there is no light out there. In other words, the halo of our Galaxy is filled with a mysterious dark matter of unknown composition and type.
Most galaxies occupy groups or clusters with membership ranging from 10 to hundreds of galaxies. Each cluster is held together by the gravity from each galaxy. The more mass, the higher the velocities of the members, and this fact can be used to test for the presence of unseen matter.
When these measurements were performed, it was found that up to 95% of the mass in clusters is not seen, i.e. dark. Since the physics of the motions of galaxies is so basic (pure Newtonian physics), there is no escaping the conclusion that a majority of the matter in the Universe has not been identified, and that the matter around us that we call `normal' is special. The question that remains is whether dark matter is baryonic (normal) or a new substance, non-baryonic.
Exactly how much of the Universe is in the form of dark matter is a mystery and difficult to determine, obviously because its not visible. It has to be inferred by its gravitational effects on the luminous matter in the Universe (stars and gas) and is usually expressed as the mass-to-luminosity ratio (M/L). A high M/L indicates lots of dark matter, a low M/L indicates that most of the matter is in the form of baryonic matter, stars and stellar remnants plus gas.
A important point to the study of dark matter is how it is distributed. If it is distributed like the luminous matter in the Universe, that most of it is in galaxies. However, studies of M/L for a range of scales shows that dark matter becomes more dominate on larger scales.
Most importantly, on very large scales of 100 Mpc's (Mpc = megaparsec, one million parsecs and kpc = 1000 parsecs) the amount of dark matter inferred is near the value needed to close the Universe. Thus, it is for two reasons that the dark matter problem is important, one to determine what is the nature of dark matter, is it a new form of undiscovered matter? The second is the determine if the amount of dark matter is sufficient to close the Universe.
Baryonic Dark Matter:
We know of the presence of dark matter from dynamical studies. But we alw from the abundance of light elements that there is also a problem in our understanding of the fraction of the mass of the Universe that is in normal matter or baryons. The fraction of light elements (hydrogen, helium, lithium, boron) indicates that the density of the Universe in baryons is only 2 to 4% what we measure as the observed density.
It is not too surprising to find that at least some of the matter in the Universe is dark since it requires energy to observe an object, and most of space is cold and low in energy. Can dark matter be some form of normal matter that is cold and does not radiate any energy? For example, dead stars?
Once a normal star has used up its hydrogen fuel, it usually ends its life as a white dwarf star, slowly cooling to become a black dwarf. However, the timescale to cool to a black dwarf is thousands of times longer than the age of the Universe. High mass stars will explode and their cores will form neutron stars or black holes. However, this is rare and we would need 90% of all stars to go supernova to explain all of the dark matter.
- Begining Of The Universe
- Black Holes
- The Future Of Science