X-rays around distant galaxies can’t come from dark matter particles, new
research shows. The mysterious glow failed to show up in the dark matter
halo around the Milky Way, astrophysicists report in the March 27 Science.
“It seems to be the final
nail in the coffin of the dark matter interpretation,” says astroparticle physicist
Ben Safdi of the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.
The tantalizing glows were first
detected in 2014 as an excess of X-rays with an energy of 3.5 kiloelectron volts, or keV, coming from faraway galaxy clusters. Some
astronomers argued that the X-rays could come from decaying particles of dark
matter — the ubiquitous, inert material that makes up more than 80 percent of
the universe’s matter. The X-rays’ energy, in particular, suggested that the
light could be coming from hypothetical dark matter particles called sterile neutrinos (SN: 6/1/18).
But searches for a similar
X-ray glows came up empty in the dwarf galaxy Draco in 2015 (SN: 12/11/15) and the Perseus galaxy cluster in 2016 (SN: 8/12/16). So Safdi and his
colleagues looked closer to home. The Milky Way’s starry spiral disk is surrounded by a halo of dark matter (SN: 3/23/20). If the X-rays come from
decaying dark matter, our galaxy’s halo should sparkle with the light.
All images of the sky look
through some portion of the Milky Way’s dark matter halo, even if that’s not
what a telescope is aiming at. So the researchers sifted through every
observation that the European Space Agency’s XMM-Newton space telescope ever
made, about 347 days of total exposure time, in search of X-rays at the right
energy. The team saw none.
“The jury is still out on
what is producing the 3.5 keV” signal, Safdi says. “What’s clear, though, is
it’s not dark matter.”