Dark Axion Stars

In a post from 4 years ago I discussed “Dark Matter Powered Stars”.

The context here was neutralino dark matter, which is a possible explanation for very massive stars in the early universe. The idea is that the very first stars could be thousands of solar masses, much greater than is possible with ordinary matter dominated stars. They would be powered by dark matter annihilation in their cores during the early part of their life. They would eventually collapse to black holes and could be candidates to seed supermassive black holes found at the center of many galaxies.


Hubble Space Telescope image of Sirius A and Sirius B (lower left) 

NASA, ESA, H. Bond (STScI), and M. Barstow (University of Leicester)

Another dark matter candidate apart from the neutralino is the axion. While the neutralino is expected to have masses in the several to tens of GeV (Giga-electron-Volts), the axion mass is a tiny fraction of an eV, at least a trillion times smaller than the expected neutralino mass. So there would be many more of them, of course, to explain the amount of dark matter we detect gravitationally.

Neither neutralinos nor axions have been discovered to date. The axion does not require supersymmetry beyond the Standard Model of particle physics, so in that sense it is a more conservative proposed candidate.

Currently we detect dark matter only through its gravitational effects – in galaxies, in clusters of galaxies, and at the very large scale by looking at thermal variations in the cosmic microwave background radiation.

In addition there are three main direct methods to try to ‘see’ these elusive particles. One is to directly detect dark matter (e.g. neutralinos) here on Earth when it collides with ordinary matter – or in the case of axions – generates photons in the presence of a magnetic field. Another is to attempt to create it at the Large Hadron Collider, and the third is to look in space for astrophysical signals resulting from dark matter. These could include gamma rays produced in the galactic center when dark matter mutually annihilates.

In a paper recently published in the journal Physical Review Letters and titled “Accretion of dark matter by stars”, Richard Brito, Vitor Cardoso and Hirotada Okawa discuss a different kind of dark star, one whose dark matter component is axions. The paper is available here.

There are two formation scenarios envisaged. The first is that dark matter (axion) stellar cores form and then these accrete additional dark matter and ordinary matter. In the second scenario, a star forms primarily from ordinary matter, but then accretes a significant amount of dark matter.

We are talking about dark matter fractions which may be say 5% or 20% of the total mass of the star.

The authors find that stable configurations seem to be possible and that the axion dark matter may lead to stellar oscillations in the microwave band. So looking for stellar oscillations in the Gigahertz range may be another astrophysical detection method for dark matter. They intend to explore the idea more deeply in future research.

TAIPAN: A Million Galaxy Survey

Taipan is an ambitious survey planned for southern hemisphere galaxies, with the goal of mapping and measuring as many as one million galaxies in our Milky Way’s neighborhood. This will provide a deeper understanding of cosmology and galaxy evolution in the relatively nearby region of our universe.

There are more than a hundred billion galaxies in our visible universe. In order to refine our understanding of galaxies, their distribution and evolution, and of the overall cosmological properties of the universe, we want to sample a very large number of galaxies.

It is naturally easier to detect galaxies that are relatively nearby, and those that are more luminous.

Since the universe is expanding in an isotropic and homogeneous manner, galaxies are in general receding away from one another – in accordance with the Hubble relation below. The Taipan survey will explore our local neighborhood, with redshifts up to about 0.3.

For nearby galaxies,

V = cz = H*d

where V is the recession velocity, c is the speed of light, z is the redshift, H is the Hubble constant, and d is the galaxy’s distance. If we evaluate for z = 0.3 and the best estimate of the Hubble constant of 68 kilometers/second/Megaparsec, this implies a survey depth of 1300 Megaparsecs, or over 4 billion light-years.

The Taipan galaxy survey will begin next year and run for four years, using the UK Schmidt telescope, which is actually in Australia at the Siding Springs Observatory. Up to 150 galaxies in the field of view will be observed simultaneously with a fibre optic array. Of course the positions of galaxies is different in each field to be observed, so the fibers are robotically placed in the the proper positions. Many thousands of galaxies can thus be observed each night.

Short video of a Starbug fiber robot

One expected result will be refinement of the value of the Hubble constant, now uncertain to a few percent, reducing its uncertainty to only 1%.

The Taipan galaxy survey will also provide a better constraint on the growth rate of structure in the universe, decreasing the uncertainty down to about 5% for the low-redshift data points. This is a factor of 3 improvement and will provide a stricter test on general relativity.

The Taipan survey will also look at galaxies’ peculiar velocities, which are the deviations away from the general Hubble flow described in the equation above. These peculiar velocities reflect the details of the gravitational field – that is dominated by the distribution of dark matter primarily, and ordinary matter secondarily. On average galaxies are moving according to the Hubble equation, but in regions where the density of matter (dark and ordinary both) is higher than average they are pulled away from the Hubble flow toward any concentrations of matter. Bound galaxy groups and clusters form in such regions.


The mapping of peculiar velocities and the details of local variations in the gravitation field will enable fundamental tests of gravity on large scales.

Another of the important areas that Taipan will explore is how galaxies evolve from young active star-forming blue galaxies to older reddish, less active galaxies. Ordinary matter cycles through stars and the interstellar medium of a given galaxy. As stars die they shed matter which ends up in molecular clouds that are the sites of new star formation. Taipan will help to increase our understanding of this cycle, and of galaxy aging in general. Star formation slows down as more and more gas is tied up in lower mass, longer-lived stars, and the recycling rate drops. It also can be quenched by active galactic nuclei events (AGN are powered by supermassive black holes found at galactic centers).

Taipan will be the definitive survey of galaxies in the southern hemisphere, and is expected to significantly add to our understanding of galaxy evolution and cosmology. We look forward to their early results beginning in 2016.



Dark Sector Experiments

A dark energy experiment was recently searching for a so-called scalar “chameleon field”. Chameleon particles could be an explanation for dark energy. They would have to make the field strength vanishingly small when they are in regions of significant matter density, coupling to matter more weakly than does gravity. But in low-density regions, say between the galaxies, the chameleon particle would exert a long range force.

Chameleons can decay to photons, so that provides a way to detect them, if they actually exist.

Chameleon particles were originally suggested by Justin Khoury of the University of Pennsylvania and another physicist around 2003. Now Khoury and Holger Muller and collaborators at UC Berkeley have performed an experiment which pushed millions of cesium atoms toward an aluminum sphere in a vacuum chamber. By changing the orientation in which the experiment is performed, the researchers can correct for the effects of gravity and compare the putative chameleon field strength to gravity.

If there were a chameleon field, then the cesium atoms should accelerate at different rates depending on the orientation, but no difference was found. The level of precision of this experiment is such that only chameleons that interact very strongly with matter have been ruled out. The team is looking to increase the precision of the experiment by additional orders of magnitude.

For now the simplest explanation for dark energy is the cosmological constant (or energy of the vacuum) as Einstein proposed almost 100 years ago.


The Large Underground Xenon experiment to detect dark matter (CC BY 3.0)

Dark matter search broadens

“Dark radiation” has been hypothesized for some time by some physicists. In this scenario there would be a “dark electromagnetic” force and dark matter particles could annihilate into dark photons or other dark sector particles when two dark matter particles collide with one another. This would happen infrequently, since dark matter is much more diffusely distributed than ordinary matter.

Ordinary matter clumps since it undergoes frictional and ordinary radiation processes, emitting photons. This allows it to cool it off and to become more dense under mutual gravitational forces. Dark matter rarely decays or interacts, and does not interact electromagnetically, thus no friction or ordinary radiation occurs. Essentially dark matter helps ordinary matter clump together initially since it dominates on the large scales, but on small scales ordinary matter will be dominant in certain regions. Thus the density of dark matter in the solar system is very low.

Earthbound dark matter detectors have focused on direct interaction of dark matter with atomic nuclei for the signal. John Cherry and co-authors have suggested that dark matter may not interact directly, but rather it first annihilates to light particles, which then scatter on the atomic nuclei used as targets in the direct detection experiments.

So in this scenario dark matter particles annihilate when they encounter each other, producing dark radiation, and then the dark radiation can be detected by currently existing direct detection experiments. If this is the main channel for detection, then much lower mass dark matter particles can be observed, down to of order 10 MeV (million electron-Volts), whereas current direct detection is focused on masses of several GeV (billion electron-Volts) to 100 GeV or more. (The proton rest mass is about 1 GeV)

A Nobel Prize awaits, most likely, the first unambiguous direct detection of either dark matter, or dark energy, if it is even possible.


https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chameleon_particle – Chameleon particle

http://news.sciencemag.org/physics/2015/08/tiny-fountain-atoms-sparks-big-insights-dark-energy?rss=1 – dark energy experiment

http://www.preposterousuniverse.com/blog/2008/10/29/dark-photons/ – dark photons

http://scitechdaily.com/physicists-work-on-new-approach-to-detect-dark-matter/ – article on detecting dark matter generated dark radiation

http://journals.aps.org/prl/abstract/10.1103/PhysRevLett.114.231303 – Cherry et al. paper in Physical Review Letters

Most Distant Galaxy Known: over 95% of the way back to the origin

Recently, a team of astronomers from the U.S., U.K. and The Netherlands have confirmed the most distant galaxy known. This galaxy had previously been estimated to have a redshift of z = 8.57, from photometric methods, that is, from the general shape of the spectrum.


Image: Hubble Space Telescope, NASA/STScI

More accurate redshifts are obtained by measuring particular emission or absorption lines, which have precisely known laboratory (z = 0) wavelengths.

The team measured Lyman alpha line emission, and have determined the redshift to be z = 8.68, in good agreement with the photometric redshift. The Lyman alpha line is a main transition line in neutral hydrogen that occurs at 1216 Angstroms (.1216 microns) in the rest frame. The authors observed the line in the infrared and centered at 11,776 Angstroms (1.1776 microns) on 2 separate observing nights, detecting the Lyman alpha line each night. The redshift is given by 1 + z = 11,776/1216 = 9.68, thus z for this galaxy is 8.68.

The galaxy image is thought to be somewhat magnified by intervening dark matter gravitational lensing, but less than a factor of 2, and perhaps only around 20%.

The significance here is in the detection of Lyman alpha at such a high redshift, corresponding to a time when the universe was only 600 million years old, less than 5% of its current age. Not only does this result determine the age of this earliest known galaxy, but it also provides insight into the nature of the intergalactic medium.

The cosmic microwave background radiation is the most distant source we can see. It comes from all directions, filling the universe and reflects a time when the universe was only 380,000 years old and transitioned from ionized plasma to neutral hydrogen and helium.

Later on in the universe’s evolution, as the first galaxies and stars form, hot blue stars produce ionizing ultraviolet radiation, and the neutral gas is reionized – electrons are stripped from their atoms. This process has generally thought to have completed by redshift ~ 6, at a time when the universe was around 1 billion years old.

Lyman alpha emission is not expected in a region which is still neutral, that has not yet undergone the reionization process. So the implication here is that the surrounding intergalactic medium in the neighborhood of EGSY8p7 has already been reionized at a significantly higher redshift.

The universe does not become reionized in a uniform way, rather the process would be expected to happen in “bubbles” or regions surrounding energetic galaxies with hot blue stellar populations. Eventually all the ionized regions overlap and the intergalactic medium becomes fully ionized.

This detection helps astronomers to better understand how reionization occurred.

The team’s paper is submitted to the Astrophysical Journal Letters and can be found here:


Galaxy Formation in an Expanding Universe: Dark Matter Halos and Supermassive Black Holes

This blog is based on a recent talk on the Horizon supercomputer simulation for galaxy formation. The talk (in English) was given at the Ecole Normale Superieure by Julien Devrient, of the University of Oxford, available on YouTube here:

The background for the simulation of galaxy formation on supercomputers is the standard Lambda-Cold Dark Matter cosmology with 4.8% ordinary matter, 26.8% dark matter and 68.4% dark energy, which are the measured values from the Planck satellite and other observations. These are the proportions at present, but until the last few billion years, dark matter was dominant over dark energy. The ratio of dark matter to ordinary matter has stayed essentially fixed since the universe was 1 second old, with about 5 times or so as much dark matter as ordinary matter.

The collisionless components to consider are cold dark matter (CDM) and stars, as the stars form inside the simulation.

Then there is a collisional fluid composed of gas, in both atomic (neutral and ionized) and molecular forms and consisting primarily of hydrogen, helium and a small amount, up to around 1% by mass, of heavy elements including carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, silicon, iron and so forth. This fraction increases during the history of the universe as star formation and evolution proceeds. This ‘primordial’ gas is heated by falling into the gravitational potential determined primarily by the CDM (but also by the ordinary matter) and it cools via various radiative processes that depend on density, temperature and composition.

There are many complicating factors and feedback processes. This is an extremely messy problem to address. Dust, supernovae, turbulent gas dynamics, magnetic fields, and black holes that merge and grow into supermassive black holes (SMBH) are all things to consider. The SMBH are surrounded by accretion disks and also may emit jets and these components are visible as highly luminous AGN (active galactic nuclei). Not all of these can be included in simulations at present, or they are treated empirically.

Although the physics is well understood for the collisionless component behavior and for the atomic and molecular gas, including the cooling (radiative) functions, the modeling must occur over many, many orders of magnitude, since scales range from less than 1 parsec to 100s of Megaparsecs (a million parsecs, where 1 parsec = 3.26 light-years). This huge range in scale, plus complex physics, makes the calculation extremely computationally expensive.

The Horizon simulation had 7 billion grid cells and 1 billion dark matter particles. The highest resolution is down to 1 kiloparsec. Gas cooling, star formation, stellar winds, two types of supernovae are included and the abundances of C, N, O, Si, Mg, and Fe tracked. Black hole formation was included. Two million CPU core hours were required for the simulation.

MultiScaleProblemFigure 1. The multi-scale problem

Many scales are involved in simulating galaxy formation – 11 or 12 orders of magnitude. Each tick mark in the above Figure 1 is 3 orders of magnitude (a factor of 1000) in linear scale. From the largest to the smallest objects (moving from right to left) we have LSS = large-scale structure: the universe has evolved into a web-like structure with filaments and sheets of galaxies and high-density and low-density regions. The scale is 100s of Megaparsecs to more than a Gigaparsec. Below this are the galaxy clusters, which are the largest gravitationally bound structures, at around 1 Megaparsec, and then galaxies which are found primarily in the 1 kiloparsec to 100 kiloparsec range.

Then within galaxies, star formation happens within molecular clouds and the scales are parsecs to 100s of parsecs. At the smallest scale, we have highly energetic active galactic nuclei (AGN), that are powered by SMBH (supermassive black holes), with millions to billions of solar masses, and have surrounding accretion disks, confined within a very small region of order 1/1000 of a parsec, reaching down towards the scale of our solar system.

multiscaleproblem.part2Figure 2. The Dark Matter Halo mass function and the galaxy mass function

It is impossible with current supercomputers and techniques to directly model across all these scales, but the Horizon-AGN Simulation, one of the largest galaxy formation simulations today, spans around 5 orders of magnitude by using adaptive mesh refinement strategies. When and where the density of matter is high and the physics is interesting, an increasingly finer mesh is employed for the calculations. Without this method, it would be impossible to make progress.

Galaxies are formed within the gravitational potentials of dark matter halos (DMH). There is about 5 times as much mass in dark matter as in ordinary matter (baryons, e.g. protons and neutrons). So the ordinary matter falls into the gravitational potentials of DMH, is heated up, and cools by radiation which allows for further collapse, and so on until galaxies are formed.

The interesting scales for DMH are from about 100 billion to 1000 trillion solar masses. The size distribution for the density perturbations that self-collapse under their own gravity follows a power law (with an index of close to -1 in the inverse linear scale). This comes from the cosmic microwave background measurements and inflationary Big Bang theory. How these density perturbations evolve and collapse to DMH is now a well-studied problem in cosmology.

One might assume that each DMH results in a single galaxy, and in the mid-range, this matches observations fairly well. But at the low-end and the high-end, this simple model breaks down, when comparison is made to the observed galaxy mass function (which is simply a measurement of how many galaxies we see per unit volume with a given mass).

At the low end we see fewer galaxies than expected. These are very faint however more and more dwarf galaxies with low luminosity yet with significant mass dominated by dark matter are being detected, and this is helping to resolve this issue. An important factor is most likely feedback from supernovae. As supernovae explode they produce blast waves which drive gas out and prevent molecular cloud formation and star formation.

Supernova physics is tricky as it can result in gas compression which enhances the star formation rate but also can drive gas out of a galaxy, partcularly if it is smaller and has a lower gravitational field, and this suppresses star formation.

In the left panel of Figure 2 above, the first black line is the DMH mass function, and the second black line is just shifted to the left by the baryon to dark matter ratio. What is being plotted is the frequency of galaxies expected for a given mass.  The actual observed curve for galaxy stellar masses is in red, and one sees fewer galaxies at the low end and especially at the very high end. The right panel shows the observational data which is replotted as the red line in the left panel.

At the high end of the mass function there are fewer galaxies with a rapid cutoff around 1 to 10 trillion solar masses for baryon content, which is about an order of magnitude lower than the DMH  mass function would suggest. At the high end it is believed that feedback from AGN (SMBH) is the cause of inhibited star formation, placing a limit on the maximum size of an individual galaxy. Of course multiple galaxies may form out of a single halo as well.

horizonagnFigure 3. The Horizon simulation without and with Active Galactic Nuclei included

The upper panel on the right in Figure 3 is the simulation without AGN, the lower one with AGN. The simulation including AGN is a better fit to observed galaxy properties.

The simulation had 7 billion grid cells and 1 billion dark matter particles. The highest resolution is down to 1 kiloparsec. Gas cooling, star formation, stellar winds, two types of supernovae are included and the abundances of C, N, O, Si, Mg, and Fe tracked. Black hole formation was included. Two million CPU core hours were required for the simulation.

Including modeling of AGN, the larger galaxies in the simulation are less massive and dimmer, and are more likely to be ellipticals than spiral galaxies. The high mass galaxies in the center of clusters are generally observed to be ellipticals, so this is a desired result.

There is much room for refining and improving galaxy simulation work, including adding additional physics and more small-scale resolution to the models. I encourage you to look at the YouTube video, there are many other interesting results discussed by Prof. Devrient from the Horizon-AGN simulation work.


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZRDITkkqqUg – Prof. Devrient’s talk

http://www.horizon-simulation.org/about.html – Horizon simulation home page

Black Holes Destroy Dark Matter (and Emit Gamma Rays)

Black holes can cause dark matter to annihilate in their vicinity by concentrating the dark matter and enhancing the collision rate between dark matter particles. The best observational candidates are supermassive black holes, such as the 4 million solar mass black hole found at the center of our Milky Way galaxy. Some galaxies have much larger supermassive black holes, reaching as high as several billion or even tens of billions of solar masses. Most massive galaxies appear to have supermassive black holes in their centers.

Artist's conception of a supermassive black hole (public domain; courtesy NASA JPL)

Artist’s conception of a supermassive black hole (public domain; courtesy NASA JPL)

We infer the existence of supermassive black holes through their effect on nearby stellar or molecular cloud orbits. And we more directly detect supermassive black holes (SMBHs) by the radiation emitted from ordinary matter that is near the black hole (BH), but has not yet fallen into the BH’s event horizon (from which nothing, not even light, can escape). Such matter will often form a hot accretion disk around the SMBH. The disk or other infalling matter can be heated to millions of degrees by the strong gravitational potential of the BH as the kinetic energy of infall is converted to thermal energy by frictional processes. Ordinary matter (OM) heated to such high temperatures will give off X-rays.

Now if OM is being pulled into a SMBH, so is dark matter, which pervades every galaxy. Dark matter (DM) responds to the same gravitational potential from the SMBH. The difference is that OM is collisional since it easily interacts with other OM via the electromagnetic force, whereas DM is generally collisionless, since it does not interact via electromagnetism.

Nevertheless DM – DM collisions can occur, rarely, via a ‘direct hit’ (as if two bullets hit each other in mid-air) and this leads to annihilation. Two DM particles meet directly and their entire energy content, from their rest mass as well as their kinetic energy of motion, is converted into other particles. The cross-section strength is not known, but it must be small due to observational limits, yet is expected to be non-zero. The most likely candidates for decay products are expected to be photons, neutrinos, and electrons.

The leading candidate for DM is some sort of weakly interacting massive particle with a mass of perhaps 5 to 300 GeV; this is the range where DM searches from satellites and on Earth are focused. (The proton mass is a little less than 1 GeV = billion electron Volts.) So if two DM particles mutually annihilate, there is of order 10 GeV to 600 GeV of available rest mass energy to produce highly energetic gamma rays.

The likelihood of a direct hit is proportional to the square of the density of the DM. A SMBH’s gravitational potential acts as a concentrator for DM, allowing the density to be high enough that there could be a significant number of annihilation events, resulting in a detectable flux of escaping photons reaching Earth. Relativistic effects work to further increase the annihilation rate. And it is possible that the annihilation signal could scale as M³ (mass of the SMBH cubed), and thus the most massive SMBHs would be very strong gamma ray emitters. These would be highly energetic gamma rays with well over 1 GeV of energy.

Movie from NASA Goddard showing Dr. Jeremy Schnittman’s simulation

Dr. Jeremy Schnittman of the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center has investigated possible annihilation rates and the nature of the observable gamma ray spectrum for some simple dark matter models. He used a compute cluster to simulate hundreds of millions of DM particles moving in the general direction of a SMBH. One of his remarkable findings is that much higher gamma ray energies can be produced than previously believed, in the case of SMBHs which are rapidly spinning.

This is a result of something known as the Penrose process, which allows energy to be extracted from a rotating BH. There is a region called the ergosphere outside of the event horizon and when two DM particles annihilate in this region and produce two gamma rays, one gamma ray photon would fall into the event horizon (into the BH), and the other photon would escape to infinity, possibly in the direction of Earth. Dr. Schnittman’s simulation indicates that the energy boost can be as high as 6 times or more. The faster the SMBH is spinning, the greater the potential energy boost.

He also has looked at DM particles on bound orbits, which are likely to form into a (donut-shaped) corotating torus around the SMBH, aligned with its spin vector. The bound DM particle annihilations lead to lower energy gamma ray production, as compared to the unbound particles.

One of the important considerations is that the influence radius of the BH is very large. The size of the BH itself (event horizon or Schwarzschild radius) is small, even for SMBHs. The radius is proportional to the mass, via the relation 2GM/R = c² (G is the gravitational constant, c the speed of light and M and R are the BH mass and radius, respectively). A SMBH with a mass of 10 million solar  masses will have a radius of only around 30 million kilometers, or about 1/5 of the Earth-Sun distance (an AU, or astronomical unit).

But the gravitational influence is much greater, since DM particles are typically expected to be moving at around only a couple of hundred kilometers per second far away from the SMBH. Thus DM particles that are 1 million times further away than the SMBH will have their orbits in their galaxy perturbed by the SMBH. And the scale of influence is thus parsecs (1 parsec = 3.26 light-years) or tens of parsecs or even hundreds of parsecs, depending on the SMBH mass.

The most energetic gamma rays can be produced by unbound DM particles. These are on orbits which can approach near to the SMBH after falling from far away (a “swan dive” toward the SMBH) and these DM particles would then typically head out away from the SMBH in the opposite direction. But before they are able to, they have a direct hit with another DM particle and annihilate into gamma rays or some other decay products.

The search for gamma rays from annihilating DM around SMBHs is already underway. There is in fact a possible detection by the Fermi telescope at 130 GeV in our Milky Way galaxy, from the direction of the Sagittarius A* SMBH. Future more sensitive gamma ray surveys may lead to many detections, helping us to better understand both dark matter and black holes.


J.D. Schnittman, 2015. “The Distribution and Annihilattion of Dark Matter around Black Holes”, http://arxiv.org/abs/1506.06728

J.D. Schnittman, 2014. Phys. Rev. Letters 113, 261102,  “Revised Upper Limit to Energy Extraction from a Kerr Black Hole”

Dark Lenses Magnify Star Formation in Dusty Galaxies

Dusty star-forming galaxies (DSFGs) are found in abundance in the early universe. They are especially bright because they are experiencing a large burst of high-rate star formation. Since they are mainly at higher redshifts, we are seeing them well in the past; the high star formation rates occur typically during the early life of a galaxy.

The optical light from new and existing stars in such galaxies is heavily absorbed by interstellar dust interior to the galaxy. The dust is quite cold, normally well below 100 Kelvins. It reradiates the absorbed energy thermally at low temperatures. As a result the galaxy becomes bright in the infrared and far infrared portions of the spectrum.

Dark matter has two roles here. First of all, each dusty star-forming galaxy would have formed from a “halo” dominated by dark matter. Secondly, dark matter lenses magnify the DSFGs significantly, allowing us to observe them and get decent measurements in the first place.

An international team of 27 astronomers has observed half a dozen DSFGs at 3.6 micron and 4.5 micron infrared wavelengths with the space-borne Spitzer telescope. These objects were originally identified at far infrared wavelengths with the Herschel telescope. Combining the infrared and far infrared measurements allows the researchers to determine the galaxy stellar masses and the star formation rates.

The six DSFGs observed by the team have redshifts ranging from 1.0 to 3.3 (corresponding to  look back times of roughly 8 to 12 billion years). Each of the 6 DSFGs has been magnified by “Einstein” lenses. The lensing effect is due to intervening foreground galaxies, which are also dominated by dark matter, and thus possessing sufficient gravitational fields that are able to significantly deflect and magnify the DSFG images. Each of the 6 DSFGs is therefore magnified by a lens that is mostly dark.

The lenses can result in the images of the DSFGs appearing as ring-shaped or arc-shaped. Multiple images are also possible. The magnification factors are quite large, ranging from a factor of 4 to a factor of more than 16 times. (Without dark matter’s contribution the magnification would be very much less).

It is a delicate process to subtract out the foreground galaxy, which is much brighter. The authors build a model for the foreground galaxy light profile and gravitational lensing effect in each case. They remove the light from the foreground galaxy computationally in order to reveal the residual light from the background DSFG. And they calculate the magnification factors so that they can determine the intrinsic luminosity of the DSFGs.

The stellar masses for these 6 DSFGs are found to be in the range of 80 to 400 billion solar masses, and their star formation rates are in the range of 100 to 500 solar masses per year.

One of the 6 galaxies, nicknamed HLock12, is shown in the Spitzer infrared image below, along with the foreground galaxy. The model of the foreground galaxy is subtracted out, such that in the rightmost panes, the DSFG image is more apparent. There are two rows of images, the top row shows measurements at 3.6 microns, and the bottom row is for observations at 4.5 microns.

This particular DSFG among the six was found to have a stellar mass of 300 billion solar masses and a total mass in dust of 3 billion solar masses. So the dust component is just about 1% of the stellar component. The estimated star formation rate is 500 solar masses per year, which is hundreds of times larger than the current star formation rate in our own Milky Way galaxy.

It is only because of the significant magnification through gravitational lensing (“dark lenses”) that researchers are able to obtain good measurements of these DSFGs. This lensing due to intervening dark matter allows astronomers to advance our understanding of galaxy formation and early evolution, much more quickly than would otherwise be possible.


The figure 6 is from the paper referenced below. The top row shows (a) a Hubble telescope image of the field in the near infrared at 1.1 microns, and (b) the field at 3.6 microns from the Spitzer telescope. The arc is quite visible in the Hubble image in the upper right quadrant just adjacent to the foreground galaxy in the center. The model for the foreground galaxy is in column (c) and after subtraction the background galaxy image is in column (d), along with several other faint objects. The corresponding images in the bottom row are from Spitzer observations at 4.5 microns.


B. Ma et al. 2015, “Spitzer Imaging of Strongly-lensed Herschel-selected Dusty Star Forming Galaxies” http://arxiv.org/pdf/1504.05254v3.pdf


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 580 other followers