A faint glow found between galaxies could be a beacon for dark matter

Abell S1063
LIGHTING THE DARK A feeble glare known as intracluster light traces the location of dark matter within galaxy clusters such as Abell S1063 (shown).

Dim light emanating from the purgatory between galaxies could illuminate the most shadowy constituents of the cosmos.

Dark matter, an unidentified type of particle that interacts gravitationally but otherwise shuns normal matter, lurks throughout clusters of galaxies. Because the elusive substance emits no light, it’s difficult to pin down how it is distributed, even though it makes up the majority of a cluster’s mass. But a feeble glow known as intracluster light could reveal dark matter’s whereabouts, researchers suggest July 30 at arXiv.org. The intermediary could eventually help scientists get a better handle on what dark matter is and how it behaves.

Observations of the galaxy cluster Abell S1063 revealed that the cluster’s mass (blue) is distributed similarly to its intracluster light (green). The cluster’s X-ray signature (red) is displaced from the cluster’s mass.

M. Montes and I. Trujillo/arXiv.org 2018

Galaxy clusters grow by swallowing up additional galaxies. As galaxies are assimilated, they can be torn apart and their stars scattered. It’s those stars that produce intracluster light. And where there’s intracluster light, there’s dark matter, the team found. “The shape of this very diffuse light traces very nicely the shape of the total mass of the cluster,” says study coauthor Mireia Montes, an astrophysicist at the University of New South Wales…

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