A new Chilean study has found that there is essentially no “dark matter” in the solar neighborhood.1 Dark matter is the name of an as-yet-unobserved material whose existence is inferred by its gravitational effects on visible objects. Three independent lines of evidence support the existence of dark matter, so why was it not detected in this study?

The gravitational pull of this unseen material causes stars to orbit the galaxy faster than they would if there were no such material. Also, gravitational macro-lensing (the bending of light as it passes by a galaxy) allows scientists to compute the mass of the galaxy. Such calculations confirm that galaxies contain far more mass than simply their visible components (stars, gas, and dust). Moreover, the motions of galaxies themselves as inferred from their Doppler shifts suggest that dark matter holds together clusters of galaxies.

Current research suggests that dark matter is actually far more abundant in the universe than visible material. So it is somewhat surprising to find that there appears to be no such material in the region of the solar system. Nonetheless, researchers analyzing data from Chile’s European Southern Observatory (ESO) have concluded that the motion of stars within 13,000 light years of the sun is consistent with a complete absence of dark matter (and inconsistent with the presence of dark matter). These results are preliminary and, if confirmed, pose a challenge.

One possibility is that dark matter is not the correct explanation for stellar and galactic motions. Perhaps the current understanding of the laws of physics is slightly off….

 

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