Fermi Hints at Dark Matter

Using public data from NASA's Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope, independent scientists at the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, Harvard University, MIT and the University of Chicago have developed new maps showing that the galactic center produces more high-energy gamma rays than can be explained by known sources and that this excess emission is consistent with some forms of dark matter.

No one knows the true nature of dark matter, but WIMPs, or Weakly Interacting Massive Particles, represent a leading class of candidates. Theorists have envisioned a wide range of WIMP types, some of which may either mutually annihilate or produce an intermediate, quickly decaying particle when they collide. Both of these pathways end with the production of gamma rays — the most energetic form of light — at energies within the detection range of Fermi's Large Area Telescope (LAT).

The galactic center teems with gamma-ray sources, from interacting binary systems and isolated pulsars to supernova remnants and particles colliding with interstellar gas. It's also where astronomers expect to find the galaxy's highest density of dark matter, which only affects normal matter and radiation through its gravity. Large amounts of dark matter attract normal matter, forming a foundation upon which visible structures, like galaxies, are built.

When the astronomers carefully subtract all known gamma-ray sources from LAT observations of the galactic center, a patch of leftover emission remains. This excess appears most prominent at energies between 1 and 3 billion electron volts (GeV) — roughly a billion times greater than that of visible light — and extends outward at least 5,000 light-years from the galactic center. The researchers find these features difficult to reconcile with other explanations proposed, such as undiscovered pulsars. The gamma-ray spectrum of the excess, its symmetry around the galactic center and its overall brightness, is, however, consistent with annihilations of dark matter particles in the mass range of 31 and 40 GeV.

The scientists note that discoveries in other astronomical objects, such as dwarf galaxies, and experiments on Earth designed to directly detect dark matter particles will be needed to confirm this interpretation.

For more information: Fermi Data Tantalize With New Clues To Dark Matter

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