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James Webb telescope breakthrough lets us ‘see’ dark matter

BGR 12/6/2022 Joshua Hawkins
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Dark matter is one of the biggest mysteries of the universe. We’re pretty sure it exists, in fact, we’re pretty sure that it makes up a large majority of our universe. But we’ve never been able to see dark matter ourselves. That may change soon, though, as a trick with the James Webb space telescope could let us “see” dark matter.

When looking at things from an astrophysical standpoint, the effects of dark matter can be seen everywhere, from the way that galaxies rotate to the way light distorts around massive galaxies with gravitational lensing. If we could actually observe dark matter through Webb, we may be able to finally learn more about this phenomenon as a whole.

And that’s exactly what scientists have been trying to do. Previously, scientists discovered a never-before-seen particle that they believed could have been dark matter. It very well could still be dark matter, too. But there just isn’t enough evidence to say for sure. If Webb can “see” dark matter in some form, though, it would help scientists at least narrow down some of the questions around this mystery.

What makes this new technique so intriguing, though, is that it allows Webb to basically trace the distribution of dark matter. It uses a system known as intracluster light – which is basically when stars and tidal streams are stripped from within galaxies in clusters. These stars continue to shine, but they do so from the intracluster medium – a space between galaxies.

Scientists have previously used Hubble to check for intracluster light, and now, they’re doing it with Webb, as well. But what makes James Webb’s search for dark matter so promising is the sheer power of the telescope, and its ability to peer deeper into the universe than any other man-made telescope we’ve made thus far.

So, this new method essentially lets us trace out dark matter and map it out in ways that have never been possible before. It’s an exciting development and one that could change how we look at dark matter in the universe forever.

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