Neutron stars are key to understanding elusive dark matter | Science & Technology

Scientists may be one step closer to unlocking one of the great mysteries of the universe after calculating that neutron stars might hold a key to helping us understand elusive dark matter.

In a paper published in The Journal of Cosmology and Astroparticle Physics, physicists from the ARC Centre of Excellence for Dark Matter Particle Physics, led by the University of Melbourne, calculated that energy transferred when dark matter particles collide and annihilate inside cold dead neutron stars can heat the stars up very quickly.

It was previously thought that this energy transfer could take a very long time, in some cases, longer than the age of the universe itself, rendering this heating irrelevant.

Professor Nicole Bell of the University of Melbourne said the new calculations show for the first time that most of the energy would be deposited in just a few days.

“The search for dark matter is one of the greatest detective stories in science. Dark matter makes up 85 per cent of the matter in our universe, yet we can’t see it. Dark matter doesn’t interact with light — it doesn’t absorb light, it doesn’t reflect light, it doesn’t emit light. This means our telescopes can’t directly observe it, even though we know it exists. Instead, its gravitational pull on objects we can see tells us it must be there.

“It is one thing to theoretically predict dark matter, but it is another thing to experimentally observe it. Experiments on Earth are limited by the technical challenges of making sufficiently large detectors. However, neutron stars act as huge natural dark matter detectors, which have been collecting dark matter for astronomically long timescales, so they are a good place for us to concentrate our efforts,” Professor Bell said.

Neutron stars are formed when a supermassive star runs out of fuel and collapses. They have a mass similar to that of our Sun, squeezed into a ball just 20km wide. Any denser, they would become black holes.

“While dark matter is the…

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