Monthly Archives: December 2015

Earth’s Dark Matter Sabers

hubble_lightsaber_image2.jpgOrion B Molecular Cloud Complex, a stellar nursery. Credits: NASA/ESA

This week NASA released a celestial light saber photo. It’s a stunning visualization of a ‘light saber’ apparition in the Orion B Molecular Cloud Complex. This is the universe of ordinary matter.

But in the world of dark matter which cohabits with ordinary matter in our universe, there are saber-like objects as well. In an earlier blog we talked about dark matter filaments and walls on the very large scale, at the scale of superclusters of galaxies and above. On the small scale, dark matter particles also align into structures as well.

Dark matter is a ‘collisionless’ fluid. That is, it interacts so rarely with either ordinary matter or itself, that it doesn’t thermalize and dissipate energy via radiation as does ordinary matter. It interacts through gravity alone, both with itself and with ordinary matter, but that can lead to structure as well, even at the very small scale. Regions of very enhanced density (gravitational clumping) are known as caustics.

If there were to be caustics in our solar system – regions of enhanced dark matter density – then it could ease the direct detection search for dark matter. There are many direct detection experiments underway on Earth, mostly with negative results, although for a number of years the DAMA/LIBRA experimenters have claimed direct detection; these results are highly disputed.

Our best understanding of dark matter is that it forms “fine-grained streams” or clumps that move together at the same velocity. These streams can be quite large and many streams should be found in our galactic neighborhood.

Now Gary Prézeau of NASA-JPL has noted that compact bodies, such as the Sun and planets, should act as lenses of sorts, focusing dark matter streams into strands of higher density. He refers to these as ‘dark matter hairs’ and calculates where the roots should lie relative to the center of the Sun or the center of the Earth or other planets.

In the case of the Earth the root of the ‘hair’ would be around 1 million kilometers behind the Earth – behind in this case meaning relative to our orbital motion around the galaxy’s center. The density enhancement might be as large as 1 billion times the normal density. In the solar neighborhood that average normal density is estimated to be 1/3 of a proton mass per cubic centimeter, so it’s not surprising that direct detection of dark matter is so difficult. But at hundreds of millions of proton masses per cc, or some tens of millions of dark matter particles per cc (depending on the dark matter mass) it could be much more feasible.

PIA20176_ipCredit: NASA/JPL – CalTech

I prefer to think of these as dark matter sabers emanating from the Earth.

It turns out that the James Webb Space Telescope, the successor to Hubble, will be placed at one of the Lagrange points (L2) in the Sun-Earth gravitational system, about 1.5 million kilometers out. Perhaps this would be a good place to put a dark matter detection experiment. The earthbound ones are getting to be quite massive, but with the potentially much greater sensitivity, a small scale detector could be quite effective. At the L2 point it would be aligned with the Sun’s orbit around our galaxy each year around the first of June. That could be the best time for detection, but there could be other hairs as well with density enhancements in the millions, and detectable at other times of the year.

References: – Ethan Siegel article – NASA release on possible ‘dark matter hairs’ around Earth – Gary Prezeau, 2015. “Dense Dark Matter Hairs Spreading out from Earth,  Jupiter, and other Compact Bodies” – dark matter structure at the very large scale


Eternal Inflation and the Multiverse


Figure 1 from Andrei Linde’s paper “Brief History of the Multiverse”. Each blob represents a pocket universe, occupying a different region of space, and being born at a different time during eternal inflation. A particular pocket universe may be connected to its parent by some sort of bridge, or that connection may have broken or decayed. Different pocket universes will have different physics.

“Inflationary cosmology therefore suggests that, even though the observed universe is incredibly large, it is only an infinitesimal fraction of the entire universe” states Alan Guth, the original father of the inflationary Big Bang, in his article from 2007, “Eternal inflation and its implications”.

Inflation is the very brief – yet extremely significant – period in our own universe’s history, perhaps of duration only a billionth of a trillionth of a trillionth of a second. During the inflation event, a very submicroscopic bubble of energy and space expanded tremendously, doubling in scale perhaps 100 times or more in each of the 3 spatial dimensions. That’s an increase in volume of around 90 factors of 10! This inflationary epoch drove the universe to become macroscopic in scale, and also to become highly homogeneous and topologically flat at large scales.

The inflationary Big Bang models solved a number of outstanding problems in cosmology, such as the horizon problem and the flatness problem. Basically at large scales we see a homogeneous and topologically flat universe in all directions. Without inflation, parts of the universe seen on opposite ends of the sky would never have been casually connected. However, with the inflation models, those regions were originally within each others’ casually connected ‘light cones’, prior to the inflation phase, before it pushed them out to much larger physical scale, at which point they become highly separated.

Andrei Linde is another one of the fathers of inflationary Big Bang theory, and the originator of the chaotic inflation models. Chaotic inflation, and another leading model, ‘new’ inflation, both appear to result in eternal inflation; this gives rise to the multiverse scenario. That is, inflation keeps going in most of space, while multiple universes form and separate from the inflation process.

The multiverse scenario states that our universe is only one of a very large number of universes, and in such a case, our particular universe may be referred to as a ‘mini-universe’ or ‘pocket universe’. Of course our universe is already enormously large, it’s just that the multiverse is giaganormously larger than that. With eternal inflation the multiverse keeps inflating in other regions, portions of which will later settle out into other ‘pocket universes’.

Linde has recently published a summary “A Brief History of the Multiverse” which describes the developments in inflationary Big Bang theory and models for the multiverse since 1982. I encourage those who are interested in multiverses to read his paper.

With this eternal inflation our universe was (most likely) not the first, it was just one of many and inflation has been going on for a very long time. Inflation would continue forever into the future. New mini-universes would continue to be spawned and settle out from the overall inflation. It appears that eternal inflation is not eternal into the past, however, just into the future (see Guth paper referenced below).

Each of these mini-universes could have different values of the fundamental physical parameters. This ties into string theory models which admit of a very large number of possibilities for physical parameters.

Some sets of these parameters are favorable to life, but many (most) would not be. In order to get life as we know it we need carbon and other heavy elements, formed in stars (and not during the Big Bang nucleosynthesis), and we need a long-lived mini-universe. Other mini-universes might have different values of dark matter and dark energy than in our own universe. This could lead to very short lifetimes with no chance to form galaxies and stars.

Sidebar: These models are motivated by string theory and inflationary cosmology. It makes more sense in this context to think of ‘mini-universes’ rather than ‘parallel universes’ that often get popularized in discussions of quantum physics e.g. the Many Worlds discussions. Sorry to break the news to you, but there is not another you in each of these other mini-universes, since, even though they are endless in number, they all have different physical conditions and different histories.


Guth, Alan 2007. “Eternal Inflation and its Implications”

Linde, Andrei 2015. “Brief History of the Multiverse”