New Evidence from El Gordo Suggests Dark Matter May Interact with Itself

By Lydia Amazouz Published on June 7, 2024 10:00
New Evidence From El Gordo Suggests Dark Matter May Interact With Itself

Recent studies have provided compelling evidence that dark matter, the mysterious substance that makes up most of the universe's mass, might interact with itself.

This new hypothesis challenges the current understanding within the Standard Model of particle physics and the widely accepted Lambda Cold Dark Matter (Lambda CDM) model.

The massive galaxy cluster known as "El Gordo" has been central to this groundbreaking discovery. If confirmed, these findings could revolutionize our comprehension of dark matter and its fundamental properties, significantly impacting the field of cosmology.

The Enigma of El Gordo

El Gordo, officially designated ACT-CL J0102-4915, is an exceptionally massive galaxy cluster located approximately 7 billion light-years from Earth. This cluster, whose name means "the Fat One" in Spanish, consists of two smaller sub-clusters colliding at incredible speeds of several million miles per hour.

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The mass of El Gordo is equivalent to 3 million billion suns, making it one of the most massive galaxy clusters known. Researchers from Italy's Scuola Internazionale Superiore di Studi Avanzati (SISSA) have been using El Gordo as a cosmic laboratory to explore the nature of dark matter. The cluster's unique properties and extreme conditions provide an ideal setting for testing theories about dark matter interactions.

A Diagram Showing The Evolution Of The Universe According To The Prevailing Cold Dark Matter Model.

Challenging the Standard Model

The Standard Model of particle physics and the Lambda CDM model suggest that dark matter does not interact with itself or with visible matter except through gravity. However, recent observations of El Gordo have revealed behaviors that the Standard Model cannot explain.

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In these models, when galaxy clusters collide, the gas component behaves differently from the dark matter component, with the gas dissipating energy and lagging behind the dark matter and galaxies. Riccardo Valdarnini, the lead author of the study, noted, "According to the currently accepted standard cosmological model, the present baryonic matter density of the universe can account for only 10% of its total matter content.

The remaining 90% is in the form of dark matter." This discrepancy highlights the need for alternative models that can account for the observed phenomena in massive galaxy clusters like El Gordo.

The Self-Interacting Dark Matter Model

The Self-Interacting Dark Matter (SIDM) model proposes that dark matter particles can collide and interact with each other, exchanging energy in the process. This model can potentially explain the peculiar behaviors observed in El Gordo.

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Valdarnini's team conducted a series of hydrodynamical simulations to replicate the conditions within El Gordo and observed that the relative separations between different mass centroids in the cluster align with the SIDM model. "The most significant result of this simulation study is that the relative separations observed between the different mass centroids of the 'El Gordo' cluster are naturally explained if the dark matter is self-interacting," Valdarnini stated.

These findings suggest that dark matter may not be entirely collisionless, as previously thought, but could have more complex interactions that affect its distribution in galaxy clusters.

Observations and Simulations

Observations of El Gordo show that it consists of two merging sub-clusters, designated as the northwestern (NW) and southeastern (SE) sub-clusters. X-ray images of the supercluster reveal a single X-ray peak in the SE sub-cluster and two faint, elongated tails that stretch beyond this peak.

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Notably, the X-ray peak precedes the SE dark matter peak, and the Brightest Cluster Galaxy (BCG) in El Gordo is offset from the SE's mass centroid. In the NW sub-cluster, the peak density of galaxies is also spatially offset from the corresponding mass peak.

These anomalies suggest that dark matter may have collisional properties. The detailed hydrodynamical simulations conducted by Valdarnini's team aimed to reproduce these observations and test the viability of the SIDM model. By adjusting various parameters, the researchers were able to match the observed features of El Gordo, providing strong support for the idea that dark matter can interact with itself.

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Implications for Cosmology

The findings from El Gordo present a significant challenge to the Lambda CDM model, which posits that dark matter is cold and collisionless.

If dark matter is indeed self-interacting, it could fundamentally alter our understanding of the universe's structure and evolution. "This suggests that present SIDM models should be considered as only a low-order approximation and that the underlying physical processes that describe the interaction of dark matter in major cluster mergers are more complex than can be adequately represented by the commonly assumed approach based on the scattering of dark matter particles," Valdarnini concluded.

These new insights could lead to the development of more sophisticated models that better capture the true nature of dark matter and its role in the cosmos.


An editor specializing in astronomy and space industry, passionate about uncovering the mysteries of the universe and the technological advances that propel space exploration.

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