New Studies Challenge the Role of Primordial Black Holes in Dark Matter

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By Lydia Amazouz Published on June 26, 2024 08:30
New Studies Challenge The Role Of Primordial Black Holes In Dark Matter

Recent studies have dealt a significant blow to the hypothesis that primordial black holes could account for dark matter, shifting the focus of scientific inquiry toward alternative explanations.

Overview Of The Research

Two pivotal studies have scrutinized the possibility that primordial black holes, theorized to have formed in the early universe, could be a major component of dark matter. The research, published in Nature and the Astrophysical Journal Supplement Series, involved nearly two decades of observations by scientists from the Optical Gravitational Lensing Experiment (OGLE) at the Astronomical Observatory of the University of Warsaw.

These long-term observational studies provided an extensive dataset, offering the most comprehensive photometric monitoring of stars in the Large Magellanic Cloud to date. "This dataset provides the longest, largest, and most accurate photometric observations of stars in the Large Magellanic Cloud in the history of modern astronomy," stated Prof. Andrzej Udalski, the principal investigator of the OGLE survey.

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Microlensing Techniques And Findings

The OGLE survey utilized gravitational microlensing to detect black holes in the Milky Way halo. According to Einstein’s theory of general relativity, massive objects can bend and magnify light from distant stars, creating a microlensing effect.

The duration of these events depends on the mass of the lensing object, with black holes producing longer-lasting effects. Microlensing events by solar mass objects typically last several weeks, whereas those by black holes that are 100 times more massive than the Sun would last a few years.

Researchers expected to find hundreds of microlensing events if primordial black holes were a significant component of dark matter. However, only 13 events were detected, and detailed analysis showed that these could be explained by known stellar populations rather than black holes.

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"If the entire dark matter in the Milky Way was composed of black holes of 10 solar masses, we should have detected 258 microlensing events," explained Dr. Przemek Mróz from the Astronomical Observatory, University of Warsaw. "For 100 solar mass black holes, we expected 99 microlensing events. For 1000 solar mass black holes – 27 microlensing events." The stark difference between expected and observed events led to the conclusion that massive black holes could account for at most a few percent of dark matter.

Implications For Dark Matter Research

The findings significantly constrain the role of primordial black holes in the dark matter equation. Black holes of 10 solar masses may comprise only a small fraction of the total dark matter content in the universe. Detailed calculations demonstrate that black holes of 10 solar masses may comprise at most 1.2% of dark matter, 100 solar mass black holes – 3.0%, and 1000 solar mass black holes – 11%. "Our observations indicate that primordial black holes cannot comprise a significant fraction of the dark matter and, simultaneously, explain the observed black hole merger rates measured by LIGO and Virgo," said Prof. Udalski.

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This forces scientists to explore other potential candidates for dark matter, such as unknown elementary particles or other exotic objects. Despite decades of research, no experiment, including those conducted with the Large Hadron Collider, has detected new particles that could account for dark matter. "The nature of dark matter remains a mystery. Most scientists think it is composed of unknown elementary particles," noted Dr. Mróz. This continued elusiveness underscores the need for innovative approaches and new technologies to unravel the dark matter puzzle.

Expected Vs. Observed Microlensing Events By Massive Objects Toward The Large Magellanic Cloud As Seen Through The Milky Way Halo.

Future Directions And The Role Of Gravitational Waves

Since the first detection of gravitational waves from a merging pair of black holes in 2015, the LIGO and Virgo experiments have detected more than 90 such events. These detections have revealed that black holes detected by LIGO and Virgo are typically significantly more massive (20–100 solar masses) than those previously known in the Milky Way (5–20 solar masses). This discrepancy has led to speculation that these could be primordial black holes. "Explaining why these two populations of black holes are so different is one of the biggest mysteries of modern astronomy," said Dr. Mróz.

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One hypothesis posits that these massive black holes formed in the very early universe from density fluctuations that exceeded a critical threshold, collapsing to form black holes. The idea that such primordial black holes could constitute a significant portion of dark matter has been a subject of intense study and debate.

However, the recent findings suggest that if primordial black holes exist, they represent only a tiny fraction of dark matter, necessitating other explanations for the massive black holes detected by gravitational wave observatories. Some theories propose that these black holes could result from the evolution of massive, low-metallicity stars or from mergers of less massive objects in dense stellar environments, such as globular clusters.

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These new insights highlight the complexity of the dark matter problem and the need for continued exploration using diverse astronomical tools and methods. The advancements in understanding gravitational waves and their sources offer promising avenues for future research, potentially bringing us closer to solving one of the universe’s most profound mysteries.

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