Tag Archives: Milky Way satellites

Leo II Dwarf Orbits Milky Way: Dark Matter or Emerging Gravity

In a prior blog, “The Curiously Tangential Dwarf Galaxies”, I reported on results from Cautun and Frenk that indicate that a set of 10 dwarf satellite galaxies near the Milky Way with measured proper motions have much more tangential velocity than expected by random. Formally, there is a 5 standard deviation negative velocity anisotropy with over 80% of the kinetic energy in tangential motion.

While in no way definitive, this result appears inconsistent with the canonical cold dark matter assumptions. So one speculation is that the tangential motions are reflective of the theory of emergent gravity, for which dark matter is not required, but for which the gravitational force changes (strengthens) at very low accelerations, of order c \cdot H, where H is the Hubble parameter, and the value at which the force begins to strengthen works out to be accelerations of only less than about 2 centimeters per second per year.

One of the 10 dwarf galaxies in the sample is Leo II. The study of its proper motion has been reported by Piatek, Pryor, and Olszewski. They find that the galactocentric radial and tangential velocity components are 22 and 127 kilometers per second, respectively. While there is a rather large uncertainty in the tangential component, for their measured values some 97% of the kinetic energy is in the tangential motion.


Artist’s rendering of the Local Group of galaxies. This representation is centered on the Milky Way, you can see a large number of dwarf galaxies near the Milky Way and many near the Andromeda Galaxy as well. Leo II is in the swarm around our Milky Way. Image credit: Antonio Ciccolella. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license.

So let’s look at the implications for this dwarf galaxy, assuming that it is in a low-eccentricity, nearly circular orbit about the Milky Way, which seems possible. We can compare calculations for Newtonian gravity with the implications from Verlinde’s emergent gravity framework.

Under the assumption of a near circular orbit, either there is a lot of dark matter in the Milky Way explaining the high tangential orbital velocity of Leo II, or there is excess gravity. So what do the two alternatives look like?

Let’s look at the dark matter case first. The ordinary matter mass of the Milky Way is measured to be 60 billion solar masses, mostly in stars, but considering gas as well. The distance to the Leo II dwarf galaxy is 236 kiloparsecs (770,000 light-years), well beyond the Milky Way’s outer radius.

So to first order, for a roughly spherical Milky Way, including a dark matter halo, we can evaluate what the total mass including dark matter would be required to hold Leo II in a circular orbit. This is determined by equating the centripetal acceleration v²/R to the gravitational acceleration inward GM/R². So the gravitational mass under Newtonian physics required for velocity v at distance R for a circular orbit is M = R v² / G. Using the tangential velocity and the distance measures above yields a required mass of 870 billion solar masses.

This is 14 times larger than the Milky way’s known ordinary matter mass from stars and gas. Now there are some other dwarf galaxies such as the Magellanic Clouds within the sphere of influence, but they are very much smaller, so this estimate of the total mass required is reasonable to first order. The assumption of circularity is a larger uncertainty. But what this says is something like 13 times as much dark matter as ordinary matter would be required.

Now let’s look at the emergent gravity situation. In this case there is no dark matter, but there is extra acceleration over and above the acceleration due to Newtonian gravity.  To be clear, emergent gravity predicts both general relativity and an extra acceleration term. When the acceleration is modest general relativity reduces to Newtonian dynamics. And when it is very low the total acceleration in the emergent gravity model includes both a Newtonian term and an extra term related to the volume entropy contribution.

In other words, gT = gN + gE is the total acceleration, with gN = GM/R² the Newtonian term and gE the extra term in the emergent gravity formulation. The gN term is calculated using the ordinary mass of 60 billion solar masses, and one gets a tiny acceleration of gN = 1.5 \cdot 10^{-11} centimeters / second / second (cm/s/s).

The extra, or emergent gravity, acceleration is given by the formula gE = sqrt (gN \cdot c \cdot H / 6 ), where H is the Hubble parameter (here we use 70 kilometers/second/Megaparsec). The value of c \cdot H / 6 turns out to be 1.1 \cdot 10^{-8} cm/s/s. This is just a third of a centimeter per second per year.

The extra emergent gravity term from Verlinde’s paper is the square root of the product of 1.1 \cdot 10^{-8} and the Newtonian term amounting to 1.5 \cdot 10^{-11} . Thus the extra gravity is 4.1 \cdot 10^{-10} cm/s/s, which is 27 times larger than the Newtonian acceleration. The total gravity is about 28 times that or 4.3 \cdot 10^{-10} cm/s/s. Now a 28 times larger gravitational acceleration leads to tangential orbital velocities over 5 times greater than expected in the Newtonian case.

Setting v²/R = 4.3 \cdot 10^{-10} cm/s/s and using the distance to Leo II results in an orbital velocity of 177 kilometers/second. With the Newtonian gravity and ordinary matter mass of the Milky Way, one would expect only 33 km/s, a velocity over 5 times lower.

Now the observed tangential velocity is 127 km/s, so the calculated number with emergent gravity is a bit high, but there is no guarantee of a circular orbit. Also, Verlinde’s model assumes quasi-static conditions, and this assumption may break down for a dynamically young system. The time to traverse the distance to Leo II using its radial velocity is of order 10 billion years, so the system may not have settled down sufficiently. There could also be tidal effects from neighbors, or possibly from Andromeda.

This is not a clear argument demonstrating that the Leo II dwarf galaxy’s observed tangential velocity is explained by emergent gravity. But it is a plausible alternative explanation, and made here to show how the calculations work out in this sample case.

So the main alternatives are a Milky Way dominated by dark matter and with a mass close to a trillion solar masses, or a Milky Way of ordinary matter only amounting to 60 billion solar masses. But in that latter case, the Milky Way exerts an extra gravitational force due to emergent gravity that only becomes apparent at very small accelerations less than about 10^{-8} cm/s/s.

Future work with the Hubble and future telescopes is expected to determine many more proper motions in the Local Group so that a fuller dynamical picture of the system can be developed. This will help to discriminate between the emergent gravity and dark matter alternatives.






Dark Matter: Made of Sterile Neutrinos?


Composite image of the Bullet Group showing galaxies, hot gas (shown in pink) and dark matter (indicated in blue). Credit: ESA / XMM-Newton / F. Gastaldello (INAF/IASF, Milano, Italy) / CFHTLS 

What’s more elusive than a neutrino? Why a sterile neutrino, of course. In the Standard Model of particle physics there are 3 types of “regular” neutrinos. The ghost-like neutrinos are electrically neutral particles with 1/2 integer spins and very small masses. Neutrinos are produced in weak interactions, for example when a neutron decays to a proton and an electron. The 3 types are paired with the electron and its heavier cousins, and are known as electron neutrinos, muon neutrinos, and tau neutrinos (νe, νμ, ντ).

A postulated extension to the Standard Model would allow a new type of neutrino, known as a sterile neutrino. “Sterile” refers to the fact that this hypothetical particle would not feel the standard weak interaction, but would couple to regular neutrino oscillations (neutrinos oscillate among the 3 types, and until this was realized there was consternation around the low number of solar neutrinos detected). Sterile neutrinos are more ghostly than regular neutrinos! The sterile neutrino would be a neutral particle, like other neutrino types, and would be a fermion, with spin 1/2. The number of types, and the respective masses, of sterile neutrinos (assuming they exist) is unknown. Since they are electrically neutral and do not feel the standard weak interaction they are very difficult to detect. But the fact that they are very hard to detect is just what makes them candidates for dark matter, since they still interact gravitationally due to their mass.

What about regular neutrinos as the source of dark matter? The problem is that their masses are too low, less than 1/3 of an eV (electron-Volt) total for the three types. They are thus “too hot” (speeds and velocity dispersions too high, being relativistic) to explain the observed properties of galaxy formation and clumping into groups and clusters. The dark matter should be “cold” or non-relativistic, or at least no more than “warm”, to correctly reproduce the pattern of galaxy groups, filaments, and clusters we observe in our Universe.

Constraints can be placed on the minimum mass for a sterile neutrino to be a good dark matter candidate. Observations of the cosmic microwave background and of hydrogen Lyman-alpha emission in quasar spectra have been used to set a lower bound of 2 keV for the sterile neutrino’s mass, if it is the predominant component of dark matter. A sterile neutrino with this mass or larger is expected to have a decay channel into a photon with half of the rest-mass energy and a regular (active) neutrino with half the energy.

A recent suggestion is that an X-ray emission feature seen at 3.56 keV (kilo-electron Volts) from galaxy clusters is a result of the decay of sterile neutrinos into photons with that energy plus active (regular) neutrinos with similar energy. This X-ray emission line has been seen in a data set from the XMM-Newton satellite that stacks results from 73 clusters of galaxies together. The line was detected in 2 different instruments with around 4 or 5 standard deviations significance, so the existence of the line itself is on a rather strong footing. However, it is necessary to prove that the line is not from an atomic transition from argon or some other element. The researchers argue that an argon line should be much, much weaker than the feature that is detected.

In addition, a second team of researchers, also using XMM-Newton data have claimed detection of lines at the same 3.56 keV energy in the Perseus cluster of galaxies as well as our neighbor, the Andromeda galaxy.

There are no expected atomic transition lines at this energy, so the dark matter decay possibility has been suggested by both teams. An argon line around 3.62 KeV is a possible influence on the signal, but is expected to be very much weaker. Confirmation of these XMM-Newton results are required from other experiments in order to gain more confidence in the reality of the 3.56 keV feature, regardless of its cause, and to eliminate with certainty the possibility of an atomic transition origin. Analysis of stacked galaxy cluster data is currently underway for two other X-ray satellite missions, Chandra and Suzaku. In addition, the astrophysics community eagerly awaits the upcoming Astro-H mission, a Japanese X-ray astronomy satellite planned for launch in 2015. It should be able to not only confirm the 3.56 keV X-ray line (if indeed real), but also detect it within our own Milky Way galaxy.

Thus the hypothesis is for dark matter composed primarily of sterile neutrinos of a little over 7.1 keV in mass (in E = mc^2 terms), and that the sterile neutrino has a decay channel to an X-ray photon and regular neutrino. Each decay product would have an energy of about 3.56 keV. Such a 7 keV sterile neutrino is plausible with respect to the known density of dark matter and various cosmological and particle physics constraints. If the dark matter is primarily due to this sterile neutrino, then it falls into the “warm” dark matter domain, intermediate between “cold” dark matter due to very heavy particles, or “hot” dark matter due to very light particles.

The abundance of dwarf satellite galaxies found in the Milky Way’s neighborhood is lower than predicted from cold dark matter models. Warm dark matter could solve this problem. As Dr. Abazajian puts in in his recent paper “Resonantly Produced 7 keV Sterile Neutrino Dark Matter Models and the Properties of Milky Way Satellites”

the parameters necessary in these models to produce the full dark matter density fulfill previously determined requirements to successfully match the Milky Way galaxy’s total satellite abundance, the satellites’ radial distribution, and their mass density profile..