Dark Matter: Why Study It? What makes it so fascinating?

The universe today had some incredible discussions with a wide range of scientists about impact craters, planetary surfaces, exoplanets, astrobiology, solar physics, comets, planetary atmospheres, planetary geophysics, cosmochemistry, meteorites, radio astronomy, extremophiles, organic black chemistry, chemistry and planetary protection, and how these intriguing fields contribute to our understanding of our place in the cosmos.

here, The universe today discusses the mysterious field of dark matter with Dr. Shawn Westerdale, who is an assistant professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy and head of the Dark Matter and Neutrino Laboratory at the University of California, Riverside, about the importance of studying dark matter, the benefits and challenges, how the matter of dark matter can teach us about finding life beyond Earth, the most exciting aspects about dark matter that he has studied during his career, and advice for future students who wish to pursue the study of dark matter. So what is the importance of studying dark matter?

“About 80% of the mass of all matter in the universe is dark matter, despite the fact that our (otherwise wildly successful) model of fundamental particle physics cannot explain what it is,” says Dr. Westerdale. The universe today. “We can see the gravitational influence of dark matter on our galaxy and on the entire fabric of the observable universe. It leaves a clear imprint on all of our cosmological and astrophysical observations through these gravitational interactions, so we know it’s there and does an incredible job of explaining what we see. But we have no idea what it’s actually made of, and that’s an essential part of understanding nature.”

The term “dark matter” was first coined in 1906 by the French mathematician and theoretical physicist, Dr. Henri Poincaré, to describe the 1884 work of the British mathematical physicist, Dr. William Thomson (Lord Kelvin), on the velocities of stars and some potentials. being dark bodies. Throughout the rest of the 20th century, dark matter became a focal point in the hypothesis of the behavior of galaxies and galaxy clusters with countless studies published by academia, including the California Institute of Technology, along with research organizations such as the SETI Institute. Despite decades of research, including the hypothesis of “cold”, “warm” and “hot” dark matter, this mysterious substance has yet to be observed. So what are some of the benefits and challenges of studying dark matter?

Dr Westerdale tells The universe today, “We haven’t found it yet, but we’ve ruled out many models, and in doing so we’ve helped refine our understanding of nature by ruling out possible modifications to the Standard Model of particle physics. On a sociological level, the study of dark matter has led to many new technologies for detecting radiation. Some of these may lead to new quantum technologies, and others are being developed in new medical imaging devices, just to name a few examples.”

The three methods for trying to observe dark matter include direct detection, indirect detection, and laboratory experiments using a host of laboratories around the world, including the Large Hadron Collider, which is the world’s largest particle collider. . Additionally, several ground-based and space-based telescopes have conducted surveys to try and create maps of dark matter, including NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope, the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope, the VLT Survey Telescope, and the Subaru. But what are the most exciting aspects about dark matter that Dr. Westerdale studied during his career?

Dr Westerdale tells The universe today, “For me the most exciting aspect of dark matter research has been the size of the question. We have such successful models of cosmology and particle physics, and yet, for all the success of these models, we still don’t know what most of the universe is made of or how it got here!”

The study of dark matter involves some of the most fundamental questions concerning cosmology, the nature of the universe, and our place in it. What does the universe consist of? How was it formed? How did galaxies form? How do galaxies behave the way they do? How did all of this lead us to be here writing dark matter articles like this one? The answers to these questions continue to elude astrophysicists, cosmologists, and countless other scientists, despite decades of research, experiments, models, and hypotheses.

Dr Westerdale tells The universe today, “One of the fun challenges of discovering dark matter is that we’re looking for extremely rare interactions, and so we have to go to great lengths to make our experiments as quiet as possible. We place our detectors in labs deep underground, up to a mile underground, to avoid noise from cosmic rays and levels of radioactivity that are normally too low to measure can mask the signals we’re looking for. It’s an exciting challenge to tackle these things in our research and figure out how to design detectors that can meet all of our goals.”

Despite the lack of observation of dark matter and confirmation of its existence, it still signals that the next generation of dark matter enthusiasts, whether they are astrophysicists, cosmologists or come from other scientific backgrounds, will have their work cut out for them. , with some possibly being the ones to confirm the existence of dark matter. Like almost all trajectories of scientific research, the study of dark matter involves ongoing collaboration between scientists from a multitude of backgrounds and expertise. Therefore, what advice can Dr. Westerdale prospective students who wish to pursue the study of the dark matter?

Dr Westerdale tells The universe today, “Experimental dark matter physics requires a very large breadth of knowledge, so don’t silo your studies – every physical, mathematical and engineering skill you learn will come in handy at some point. Programming skills are especially important, as are learning statistics, chemistry, and other engineering skills. And when you come across something new, take the time to learn how it works on a fundamental level—it will pay off later when you can see how it fits into the big picture.”

Will we ever observe dark matter, and how will it help us better understand our place in the universe in the coming years and decades? Only time will tell, and that’s why we go!

As always, keep doing science and keep looking!

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