Dark matter was first suggested to explain the weird rotation of galaxies, yet almost 50 years afterward, we still have no clue if it exists or what it is. Over the last 15 years, astronomers have relied more and more on simulations to see if the theoretical predictions of dark matter actually do match the observations.
And the latest one, published in Physical Review Letters, strengthens the position of dark matter above alternative explanations. The simulation was conducted by an international team of cosmologists and led by Durham University. It shows that the presence of dark matter connects the size and rotation speed of galaxies to their brightness, just as seen in observations.
“This solves a long-standing problem that has troubled the dark matter model for over a decade," lead author Aaron Ludlow said in a statement. "The dark matter hypothesis remains the main explanation for the source of the gravity that binds galaxies. Although the particles are difficult to detect, physicists must persevere."
One of the latest challenges to dark matter has been the discovery of a mass discrepancy acceleration relation. This empirical link connected the gravitational acceleration of the galaxy to the mass of visible matter, which makes stars, planets, us, narwhals, etc.
There are other relationships that have been difficult to reproduce in simulations as well. While dynamical mass and the mass of all the stars in a galaxy is well correlated, simulations using dark matter have not been able to reproduce the correlation. Scientists have looked for new theories, such as the Modified Newtonian Dynamics, that do a better job at explaining and predicting these relationships. Well, until now.
This simulation is more refined than previous ones, with the team able to reproduce galaxies of different sizes and how they evolved over the course of the universe. The new computer model shows that dark matter can easily explain what’s seen out there in the cosmos.
Dark matter is still as mysterious as ever, but it lives to fight another day as the best explanation of what we see (and don’t see) in the universe.